2016.B.4.1. Solving Communications and Navigation Requirements for Small Lunar Missions


Christopher Saunders (1)
Jonathan Friend (1)
Susan Jason (1)
Mathew Cosby (2)
Richard Fisackerly (3)

  1. Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, United Kingdom
  2. Goonhilly Earth Station Limited, United Kingdom
  3. European Space Agency, The Netherlands




Lunar Missions, Communications, Navigation


There is a growing need for space exploration to be performed at the lowest possible cost, and at the highest efficiency.  The important supporting infrastructure of exploration can be performed by commercial industry, allowing space agencies to focus their budgets in cutting edge technology development and science.  Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) – in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) – are currently planning the implementation of an infrastructure service that will provide future lunar missions (both orbiting and landed on the surface) with communications relay and navigation signals.

Nano satellites and CubeSats will, in particular, benefit from a provided communications service as it will allow their on-board systems to be minimized and data throughput to be maximized.

An initial Lunar Communications Pathfinder Mission is proposed that will demonstrate the tech-nologies, operations and preliminary services that will be a first step towards a fully operational lunar communications and navigation system.  The path-finder spacecraft will deliver a host of customer as-sets (e.g. CubeSats to lunar orbit, micro-penetrators to the lunar surface) where they will form an initial user base for the communications system.  The communications element of the satellite will provide data relay services between a dedicated ground segment and multiple lunar assets.  Users will be able to command and receive data from their lunar assets via an internet based interface removing the need to set up their own ground station.  Opportunities to demonstrate critical technologies for exploration will be available.

The system is being designed to be compatible with other planned lunar assets (e.g. space agency missions and Google Lunar X-prize) with a view to offering back-up or supplementary communications services.  International communications protocols (e.g. Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems (CCSDS) “Proximity-1”) at UHF frequencies will be used to enable inter-operability and cross-support between different assets.

The pathfinder mission is based around flight systems currently being built by SSTL for commercial terrestrial communications companies, thus minimising risk and non-recurring costs.  The mission will be financed by selling customer ‘tickets’ to parties around the world, and aims to bring lunar missions within budget levels of emerging space nations, universities, small companies and other consortia.  This mission will provide a service that will be open to any customers with missions in cis-lunar space so that the progress of lunar science and exploration can be accelerated.


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