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Luna facility brings Moon to Earth

(17 October 2018 - ESA) A facility planned for ESA’s Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, will recreate the Moon’s surface on Earth. ESA project manager for strategic planning and future development Andreas Diekmann shares how the three-part lunar analogue facility, known as Luna, will help Europe go farther in space.

Analogue environments that replicate aspects of space on Earth provide a valuable test-bed for tools and concepts as well as a location for research and a training ground for astronauts.

Andreas says Luna will combine a 1000 m2 area of simulated lunar soil with a moon habitat, powered by an innovative energy system, representative of what could be used for a lunar base.

Luna will also benefit from proximity to the facilities and expertise of the EAC and German Aerospace Centre, DLR, making it a most attractive site for preparing for human exploration of the Moon.

luna 1

VR rendering of Luna facility (courtesy: ESA)

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EAC-1 simulant (courtesy: ESA)

“The Moon is a major focus for ESA and the next step for human exploration,” Andreas explains. “Developed in partnership with DLR, Luna will help us build our expertise, prepare for missions to the Moon and provide a platform for researchers across Europe to test technology and procedures.”

While it is still very early days for Luna development, researchers at the astronaut centre have already identified a lunar dust substitute comprised of volcanic powder from eruptions from the nearby Eifel volcanic region around 45 million years ago.

This will be used to simulate the lunar surface, and initial designs for a moon habitat known as FlexHab (Future Lunar Exploration Habitat) where astronauts will live and work are expected by the end of 2018.

Representatives from ESA, DLR and Air Liquide Advanced Technologies signed a partnership agreement around energy storage and provision on 2 October 2018.

Solar energy has been identified as the most sustainable option for a moon base. During the lunar day, energy from the Sun will be used directly via photovoltaic panels, but it will also be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. These two elements will then be stored separately before being recombined in a fuel cell for use during the two-week-long lunar nights.