Why are we going back?
The scientific and business cases for returning to the Moon
The South Pole crater has been selected for exploration by many space players. As ESA’s Didier Schmitt explains, “We know that it is rich in water resources, which we can hydrolyse for propellant (as hydrogen) and oxygen for the crew. Also, the South Pole has collected all the material from the interior of the Moon when it cooled some 4 billion years ago. Such craters are cold traps that contain a fossil record of the early Solar System. We can learn a lot about our origins.”
“A key strategy to the successful location of a permanent base will be in situ resource utilisation (ISRU),” says Aidan Cowley, ESA science advisor to future missions at the Astronaut Centre, where he and his team have developed a material that simulates lunar regolith (loose deposits covering solid rock). “We begin construction of a lunar facility later this year, using 600 tonnes of this simulant, to prepare our astronauts, to test equipment and to validate operations on the lunar surface.”
Of appeal to the commercial sector is the potential range of metals and materials available at the South Pole, and their resale value. While there are some existing treaties in place over who can claim ownership of what beyond Earth, (Outer Space Treaty 1967, Mining Space Act 2015), with so many people heading towards the Moon, these rules may require reclassification.
A split image of Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole shows an elevation map (left)