On 20 July we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the first time humankind ever trod the moon. This was one of the greatest feats in history and without doubt represented a great step for humanity, serving as inspiration for the subsequent development of space missions of all types. Oddly enough, however, interest in the Moon itself fell away afterwards. This interest revived in 2007, with NASA and the rest of the world’s space agencies setting their sights on the Moon anew. Witness the 2009 launch of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and the landing of China’s Chang’e 4 probe on the dark side of the Moon in January of this same year.
As of today, interest in space exploration has perked up considerably. Future programs of the major space agencies include missions to set up permanent moon-orbiting stations (Lunar Gateway), robotic and crewed missions to the Moon and Mars as well as missions to rendezvous with various asteroids or comets.
Private initiative has also weighed in, with hugely ambitious long-term projects such as asteroid mining initiatives and similar schemes for other heavenly objects or the establishment of colonies on Mars. These projects pose various concurrent technological challenges such as propulsion; robotics; autonomy; guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems; communications; or in-situ exploitation and generation of resources to enable human settlement or commercial exploitation of outer space.
Fifty years ago Spain hardly had a space industry to speak of. Today the picture is quite different; there is a network of firms that have been able to develop key knowledge and are now in a condition to play a starring role in this new scenario. GMV, in particular, has played a key part in previous moon missions such as the European SMART-1 or USA’s LRO. These Spanish companies are equally capable of leading important aspects within control systems of future missions, both onboard and on the ground.
GMV is now busy developing an autonomous moon soft-landing system (PILOT) for the joint ESA/Russia Luna 27 moon mission. It is also leading definition of the GNC system of the HERACLES mission, a robotics moon mission to set out the path to follow for future planetary exploration. GMV is also leading the GNC system of the HERA planetary defense mission.
In late November 2019 ESA’s Ministerial Council is due to be held in Spain. In this meeting ESA’s member states will approve the projects to be carried out in coming years. A good number of space-exploration missions will be put forward. We trust that Spain will come to the party and allow the country’s burgeoning space industry to play a fitting part in these future missions.
Author: Jorge Potti
GMV’s General Manager of Space
This article was originally published in La Razón Innovadores. Click here to read it (in Spanish).
Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV