Moonlight is the initiative of the European Space Agency (ESA) for the creation of lunar communications and navigation services (Lunar Communications and Navigation Services, LCNS) and the related infrastructure.

Moonlight’s aim is to support the commercial and institutional missions that, in the second half of the decade, will explore Earth’s satellite, and to aid, over time, the development of a real Lunar Economy.

In May 2021, ESA selected two consortia to understand the needs and the technical aspects required to guarantee navigation and positioning systems on the Moon and, most importantly, to study how to set up the project in a financially sustainable way, involving industry as an active part.

Telespazio is guiding a consortium that includes satellite operators, such as Inmarsat and Hispasat, manufacturing companies, Thales Alenia Space, OHB and MDA UK, small and medium sized businesses and start-ups such as Argotec, ALTEC and Nanoracks Europe, Universities and Research Centres such as SEE LAB SDA Bocconi and Politecnico di Milano. 

The actors involved with Telespazio in the Moonlight project, in addition to having a shared vision, are working to create a real economic ecosystem on the Moon, brought to life by governmental and private missions, innovative services and constant contact with Earth.

 

The vision of the consortium led by Telespazio

In this study phase, the consortium will define the architecture, the implementation costs and the service provision model for the future development of the complete (end-to-end) system, whose objective will be to guarantee services to the various platforms orbiting the Moon or based on its surface, such as rovers, landers or lunar bases.

The infrastructure planned by the consortium will consist in lunar and ground stations and a network of satellites, with Telespazio’s Fucino Space Centre playing the essential role of connecting and coordinating all the actors involved.

This in another element in the special relation the Fucino area has with the Moon, which started in July 1969, when it broadcast, live, to millions of Italian viewers, the historical images of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

In the perspective imagined by the consortium, on the Moon, as currently occurs on Earth, communication, navigation and positioning services will be the real enablers of further applications and innovation, the drivers for the sustainable exploration of Earth’s satellite and for the birth of the Lunar economy.

Simpler communications, more accurate positioning

Satellite networks around the Moon will lead to simpler communications for the various missions over the next years, especially for the ones directed in regions that are not visible from Earth.

Moonlight will allow space agencies and companies to reduce the complexity of the missions, e.g. by separating communication requirements from the availability and programming of Direct-to-Earth communication, increasing data transmission from users through a network of interconnected hubs and, lastly, reducing communication costs through economies of scale.

The satellite network will also supply navigation signals that, through local radio beacons, will distribute a high precision, high availability positioning system, allowing future missions to reduce the complexity of onboard navigation systems, leading to lower costs.

With Moonlight, it will be possible to reduce the complexity of the missions by providing navigation signals that guide orbiters and landers/rovers, to contribute to lowering the costs of the satellite navigation system and, lastly, to support navigation during manned and robotic surface exploration missions.