European Space Agency opens proposal call for lunar mission tech

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is enabling tech companies to take part in its Terrae Novae exploration programme, calling for proposals for small missions to the Moon.

Sending the first European astronaut to explore the Moon’s surface stands at the core of the Terrae Novae 2030+ strategy. It further aims to boost Europe’s presence in low-Earth orbit and participate in the first human mission to Mars.

Small lunar missions form a recent addition to the strategy, “focusing on closing technology gaps and expanding our scientific knowledge of both the Moon and Mars,” said Xavier Barbier, ESA engineer, leading the call for ideas.

The call is open to both private companies and consortia including research institutions. According to Barbier, this presents “an excellent opportunity for small and medium-sized companies to increase their role in the field of space exploration.”

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The scope of the proposed missions is broad, as long as they focus on exploration and scientific activities. This can range from fly-by satellites and rovers to resource-extraction processes and improved mapping of potential landing sites.

Applicants need to show that their project’s development from kickoff to launch won’t take longer than 4.5 years, with a total cost no higher than €50mn. Ideally, they should also be able to develop their idea from start to finish, and see it through implementation.

The ESA itself will offer access to resources such as the Ariane 6 launcher for piggyback rides, and the Moonlight programme for lunar communications and navigation services.

Artist's view of the Ariane 6 launcher
Artist’s view of Ariane 6’s configuration using four boosters. Credit: D. Ducros/ESA

The call is open until December 14, 2023, and the submitted proposals will be evaluated in early 2024. Potential candidates should be based in states that participate in Terrae Novae with a small to medium contribution. These are Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, UK-based companies can now apply to the National Space Innovation Programme’s (NSIP) £34mn kickstarter call, inviting proposals that can accelerate the development of new space technologies, satellite applications, and services.

The call is open until November 13, 2023, and the selected projects will receive a grant ranging between £150,000 and £1mn. They need to be completed within 18 months.

NSIP’s total funding — backed by the UK Space Agency — reaches £65mn and will be split across further calls in 2024 and 2025.