A United Kingdom-led mission to put a satellite in orbit around the moon, potentially enabling lunar colonists to use mobile phones to communicate with each other, has inched a step closer to blastoff.
The British National Space Centre has announced that it will undertake a technical-feasibility study of the MoonLITE, or Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecom Experiment, mission, which Lord Drayson, the U.K. minister of state for science and innovation, said could help answer fundamental questions about the composition of the moon.
The study will report with a full mission schedule and costs late next year. It is expected to take nine months, with the support of NASA, which is assessing any potential contribution it could make to the science and technology of the mission. A tender process for the feasibility study contract will run until March.
Depending on the outcome of the study, the MoonLITE mission could launch by about 2014, the BNSC said, reiterating that no decision will be made to proceed with, build, or launch the MoonLITE mission until the study has reported its findings.
The plan for the mission is to put a satellite in orbit around the moon for use as a telecommunications station, relaying data from a network of geophysical instruments on the moon's surface back to Earth.
The instruments will gather data on the strength and frequency of moonquakes, as well as on the thickness of the crust and core. They also aim to determine whether organic material or water is present in the moon's polar regions.
In addition to relaying this scientific data back to Earth, the satellite system should also ensure a full four-bar mobile signal for lunar colonists living in a moon base, which NASA wants to build after 2020.
Natasha Lomas of Silicon.com reported from London.