The European Space Agency, Russia and Japan are all considering a cislunar orbital complex that could consist of a habitation section and a resource module that would provide power and fuel and possibly be a safe haven for Orion crew exploration vehicle crews.

This orbital complex could feature in a report to be published in mid-May about the progress made between ESA and NASA on their comparative lunar architecture study that began in January. The report will be followed by further work that will finish at the end of the year.

As a subset of the global exploration strategy work ongoing between the world's space agencies, ESA and NASA have been discussing their own plans, with the Europeans interested in creating their own architecture enabling them to act independently but also support a collaborative programme.

"Europe will not do this alone. Orbital infrastructure in cislunar space is something Europe could do with its [technological] heritage," says ESA's human spaceflight directorate's head of strategy and architecture office Bernhard Hufenbach. "It could be a staging post and make the [NASA] Altair [lunar lander], Orion architecture more robust."

He cited ESA's International Space Station Columbus laboratory module and the agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle with its fuel and dry cargo capabilities as examples of systems that his agency could apply to a cislunar station.