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The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to build a satellite constellation to orbit the Moon, providing connectivity for all lunar missions

According to a statement on the ESA website, more than a dozen European companies have signed contracts to draw up plans to build a satellite constellation set to orbit the Moon. The lunar constellation would be used for telecommunications and navigation systems for all future missions to visit the Earth’s closest celestial body. 
 
This so-called Moonlight initiative could have many benefits for space exploration, particularly for facilitating a human presence on the moon itself. The constellation would allow communications equipment on board visiting spacecraft to be smaller and less complex, in turn lowering the cost of lunar exploration and making it more achievable for smaller nations.
 
The constellation would also help facilitate observations of the dark side of the Moon, as well as allowing for easier remote operation of lunar rovers and other devices. It could even allow for commercial companies to develop technologies around the service, with the ESA suggesting a virtual reality game that would allow players to “manipulate lunar robots or see through the eyes of lunar astronauts”.
 
“A lasting link with the Moon enables sustainable space exploration for all our international partners, including commercial space companies. By using an ESA-backed telecommunications and navigation service for the Moon, explorers will be able to navigate smoothly and to relay to Earth all the knowledge gained from these lunar missions,” said the ESA’s director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, Elodie Viau.
 
The ESA has suggested that the communications system would be available to all nations with a space programme.
 
“A robust, reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation system will make the dozens of individual missions planned for the Moon more cost-efficient and enable smaller countries to become space-faring nations, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
 
The work will be undertaken by two separate company consortiums. The first will be led by Surrey Satellite Technology, while the second will be led by Telespazio.
 
This move comes as the ESA prepares to provide service modules for NASA’s Artemis programme, which seeks to return humans to the Moon by 2024. 
 
 
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