Moon’s south pole is a very difficult place to land: European Space Agency

Moon’s south pole is a very difficult place to land: European Space Agency

MUMBAI: The European Space Agency (ESA) was planning an unmanned mission to the south pole region of the Moon — almost like Chandrayaan-2 — with a targeted landing date sometime in 2018.

Called the lunar lander mission, the agency scrapped it owing to lack of funds.

During the plan stages, it prepared a report about the hazards and risks of landing in the south pole region of the Moon, which it subsequently placed in the public domain.


The report says: “The surface (south pole) of the Moon is a complex environment where charged particles and radiation meet fine lunar dust. The results can be surprising, unpredictable and hazardous.
“Moon dust sticks to equipment, causing mechanical problems and could cover solar panels and other surfaces reducing their efficiency.

“Electrostatic forces propel dust around the Moon’s surface causing additional risk. The electrostatic charging caused by these particles may be a hazard for future landers, and humans,” the report says, emphasising — “little is known about lunar dust and its behaviour on the Moon’s surface”.

In layman’s parlance, electrostatics is the study of stationary electric charges.

“During landing the vehicle (lander) will keep a watchful eye on any shadows that might block solar power generation as well as hazards such as steep slopes or large boulders that could endanger the lander as it comes to a rest,” the report says.

The ESA report quotes Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, about the lunar dust problem, as saying: “You have to live with it, but you’re continually fighting dust problem both outside and inside the spacecraft.”

ESA is currently partnering with the Canadian and Japanese space agencies to prepare for the Heracles robotic mission to the south pole region of the Moon in the mid-to-late 2020s.

In addition to the ESA report, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez prepared a report, jointly with Nasa, dated May 30, 2019.

Called “Lunar Exploration and Access to Polar Regions”, it highlights some of the possible risks of landing in the polar region of the Moon. The report was prepared keeping in view Nasa’s aim to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

The landing zone is again the south polar region and Nasa repeatedly stated that it will use the data from Chandrayaan-2 while planning the mission, called Artemis. The joint report, which has relevance to the Moon’s south polar region, says there are 17 types of risks involved in landing a spacecraft in this area.