The European Space Agency (ESA) opens a lunar analogue facility in Cologne, with an eventual Moon Village - and possible Chinese collaboration - in its sights.
The analogue unit, opening at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre (EAC), is to familiarize astronauts with the hostile conditions they will have to cope with on the Moon. EAC is already researching technology and designs needed for a permanent Moon base. The Future Lunar Exploration habitat (FLEXhab) project sees EAC researching 3D printing technology as a potential means of producing habitat elements from lunar materials.
Other ESA facilities are undertaking related projects - EXOHAB at ESA-ESTEC/ILEWG in the Netherlands, and the Modular Analogue Research Station project (MARS) in Poland.
Asked about the outpost in an ESA article, the director general of the 22-member ESA, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, described it as conforming to the spirit of the International Space Station. "In the Moon Village we would like to combine the capabilities of different spacefaring nations," he explained, "with the help of robots and astronauts. The participants can work in different fields, perhaps they will conduct pure science and perhaps there will even be business ventures like mining or tourism."
The secretary general for China's space agency, Tian Yulong, disclosed the talks about the envisioned lunar base in Chinese state media in April. ESA spokesman Pal Hvistendahl confirmed the talks.
China's ongoing lunar missions will bring valuable technological innovation to a collaborative project with the ESA and other partners. The China National Space Administration plans to launch a mission to collect samples from the Moon by the end of this year. In 2018 it plans the first mission to the far side of the Moon to bring back mineral samples.
Date written/update: 2017-04-28