As part of the European Space Agency’s larger study of lunar cave mission concepts, a German-led team is proposing the use of a spherical probe that would be lowered into a lunar pit before detaching from its tether and exploring independently.
Coordinated by the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg in Germany, the Descent And Exploration in Deep Autonomy of Lunar Underground Structures (DAEDALUS) design study was one of three selected by ESA for integration with the agency’s plans for the European Large Logistics Lander (EL3).
Currently still in the study phase, the 8,500-kilogram EL3 lander is designed to host a series of different missions. Selection of the first payload to be carried aboard the lander is expected in 2022.
If selected, a crane aboard the EL3 lander would lower the DAEDALUS probe into a lunar pit attached to a tether. During the descent, a lidar system aboard the probe would be used to map its interior. The probe would also measure temperature and radiation levels, data that could pave the way in utilising caves to act as natural defences against radiation, micrometeorites and surface temperature for a habitat for the first lunar explorers.
Once the probe reaches the bottom of the pit, the probe would be detached from its tether to explore independently. The tether would then act as a Wi-Fi receiver allowing DAEDALUS to relay its findings out of the pit.
In addition to determining if lunar caves could be used for the construction of habitats, the mission will also give us our first glimpse into lunar pits that are believed to be ‘skylights’ into lava caves. These caves would be of high scientific interest and could perhaps even hide water ice deposits.
In addition to the Julius-Maximilians-Universität, the DAEDALUS design study includes input from Germany’s Jacobs University Bremen, and Italy’s CISAS, University of Padova, INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, the VIGEA-Virtual Geographic Agency of Reggio Emilia and CIRA Space Exploration Technologies Department.