2017.A.1.2. LUnar CubeSats for Exploration (LUCE) mission concept studies


Roger Walker (1)
Johan Vennekens (1)
Richard Fisackerly (1)
James Carpenter (1)
Ian Carnelli (2)

  1. ESA/ESTEC, The Netherlands
  2. ESA HQ, France




lunar science


Within the frame of the ESA General Studies Programme, the fourth edition of the Sysnova technical challenge has focussed on “LUnar CubeSats for Exploration (LUCE)”. The activity aims to generate, through an open competitive Announcement of Opportunity (AO) process, a number of innovate Cubesat / nano-sat mission and system concepts, including operational approaches, platform designs and instrument concepts, which can support ESA’s lunar exploration objectives. As a result of the AO, four different mission concepts have been selected for further 6- month study in parallel, and the winning concept will be awarded the opportunity to have their concept further elaborated in the ESA Concurrent Design Facility. The overall rationale for the activity is to prepare European teams for flight opportunities to the Moon that may arise in future. Hence, the mission concepts studied in Sysnova (along with others) may be selected through opportunity-specific AOs depending on the number of slots available. The LUCE Sysnova Technical Challenge addresses four different themes associated with the contribution that CubeSats and other nano-satellites could make to future lunar exploration initiatives:
•    Lunar Resource Prospecting
•    Lunar Environment and Effects
•    Science in Lunar Space
•    Lunar Exploration Technology and Operations Demonstration
Proposals responding to the AO were able to address one or more themes in their mission concepts, and were required to comply with a common set of mission and system constraints. Single spacecraft as well as multiple distributed spacecraft were permitted, as long as they complied with the constraints. For the purposes of the AO, it was assumed that a larger Lunar Orbiter spacecraft would provide transportation to lunar orbit and data relay services to/from Earth ground stations via a pre-defined Inter-Satellite Link (ISL), thereby alleviating the associated propulsion and communications challenges for the CubeSats/nano-satellites. Technical challenges to be addressed at the proposal stage and later on during the study (if selected) include:
•    propulsion for operational acquisition and maintenance
•    instrument miniaturisation and achievable  performance
•    on-board autonomy due to infrequent communication windows
•    payload on-board data processing due to limited ISL data rates
•    navigation for payload data, pointing and propulsive manoeuvres.
The paper provides an overview of the Sysnova challenge technical requirements and constraints, and of the four selected mission concepts to be studied.


  • Download the slides in PDF format here (1MB)

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