The European Space Agency is considering a robotic cargo lunar lander that would deliver 1,700kg (3,700lb) to a manned outpost on the Moon.
Flight obtained details of the proposal from another space agency's official and ESA has declined to provide information as the lander is a part of the agency's proposals to its member states' ministerial meeting to be held in November. ESA and other world agencies, with NASA in a lead role, are in discussions about a Moon base to be located possibly at the south pole in the 2020s.
NASA's lunar lander concept named Altair is a 45,000kg vehicle that can deliver 4,500kg of cargo along with four crew to the Moon's surface. But NASA's own Lunar Architecture Team concluded that 6,000kg was preferred for an outpost. So the European lander could almost fill that cargo requirements gap.
Above: The crewed ascent vehicle lifts off from this early NASA Altair lunar lander concept's descent stage
"We would first like to finish our internal discussion regarding the programme proposal for the ministerial council in November that we are currently drafting, before we disclose any details," says ESA's human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration directorate.
The November meeting will decide the agency's future priorities and could approve one major pillar of ESA's exploration work: technology development for the circumlunar-capable Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS), a manned capsule programme with Russia. That would be launched in the next decade by a yet-to-be-designed rocket, although an evolution of the Samarra Space Centre built Soyuz booster has been one proposal.
While the rocket for the ESA cargo lander was described to Flight as an EADS Astrium Ariane 5, in the 2020s timeframe ESA's Future Launcher is likely to be the booster used. Not yet defined fully, technology for this rocket is being developed under ESA's Future Launcher Preparatory Programme.
ESA has been considering a manned lander that would go to the Moon with the CSTS.