A robotically deployable lunar surface science station and its validation in a Moon-analogue environment
This article presents a system design and a surface operations concept for a robotically deployable, small scientific observatory on the lunar surface. The design reference mission scenario considers its implementation as part of larger international exploration mission such as the European Exploration Envelope Programme. The underlying science case particularly addresses scientific objectives for long term observations as part of scientific networks. Considered strawman payload for this surface station focuses on instruments which are - or could be - candidates for geophysical and astronomical observation networks. A seismometer, a radio experiment and an IR telescope have been taken as sizing case to assess the station's system budgets. First part of the article looks at the station design from engineering perspective whether a small modular station can address common needs of such instruments such as a sustained operation in the lunar environment. Focus is given to design features to enable the station's deployment by robotic assets. Secondly, the core unit of the conceptualized station has been built as engineering model including its basic system functions, interfaces to neighboring mission elements such as the lander vehicle and the rover and a set of geophones as representative for a science instrument. This hardware realization was used in a functional end-to-end demonstration from robotic deployment to delivery of geo-scientific data. The mission demonstration has been carried out in a Moon analogue field test on Mt. Etna, Sicily/Italy and confirmed the general feasibility of the proposed concept for lunar scientific exploration. Particularly, the evaluation of the acquired seismic data confirmed its suitability for sub-surface exploration. Results from the Moon analogue test are presented together with the design details of the surface station and the necessary conditions for its implementation and use in a robotic exploration scenario.