European Student Moon Orbiter

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The European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO) was a proposed European student mission to the Moon. Student teams from 19 universities throughout Europe worked on the program. ESMO was conceived by the Student Space Exploration & Technology Initiative under the support of the European Space Agency (ESA); prior to the start of Phase A the full responsibility for the management of the program was transferred to the ESA Education Office. In 2009, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) was selected as prime contractor.[1] ESMO was scheduled for launch in late 2013 or early 2014,[1] but further ESA evaluation deemed the ESMO project's costs "unsustainable" given the ESA Education Office's budget.[2]


The mission objectives for ESMO were:[3]

  • To launch the first lunar spacecraft to be designed, built and operated by students across ESA Member States and ESA Cooperating States.
  • To place and operate the spacecraft in a lunar orbit.
  • To acquire images of the Moon from a stable lunar orbit and transmit them back to Earth for education outreach purposes.
  • To perform new measurements relevant to advanced technology demonstration, lunar science and exploration.

The educational aim of the project was to provide valuable hands-on experience to university students within a real and demanding space project. This is in order to fully prepare a well qualified workforce for ambitious future ESA missions.[3]

Lunar Transfer[edit]

The spacecraft of approximately 190 kg mass and a size of 76 x 74 x 74 cm was designed to be launched as a secondary or auxiliary payload into Geostationary transfer orbit in late 2013 / early 2014. From there, the spacecraft would use its on-board propulsion to travel to lunar orbit via a weak stability boundary transfer. This travel via the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point would take three months, but it requires much less propellant than a direct transfer (see Low energy transfer[4][5] and Interplanetary Transport Network).[1][3] ESMO is intended to be operated in lunar orbit for six months.


Payloads that were considered for the orbiter included:[3]

  • Narrow Angle Camera (outreach payload): to take images of the lunar surface. High school students will be able to propose a lunar site to be imaged.
  • LunaNet (technology demonstration payload): internet-like network at the Moon for communication between future spacecraft in lunar orbit, landers, rovers and ground stations on the Earth. The LunaNet experiment will test the associated communication protocols for the Lunar Internet.
  • Radiation Monitor (scientific payload): a compact and low power radiation monitor which can provide inputs for Space environment models.
  • Radar (scientific payload): to provide radar observations of the Moon. (radar observations from Earth are limited to the Earth-facing side of the Moon).
  • Microwave Radiometric Sounder (scientific payload): a passive Microwave radiometer to measure thermal and dielectric properties of the lunar regolith.

Technical Facts[edit]

The table below provides an overview of the spacecraft platform and the ground segment.[3]

Subsystem Description
Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) 3-axis stabilized: 2 star trackers, 4 sun sensors, 2 inertial measurement units, 4 reaction wheels, 8 cold gas thrusters
On-board Data Handling 2 ESA LEON2 processors (dual redundant) running data handling software (command timeline and simple FDIR) and ADCS software; 32 MB Serial Flash for payload data storage; CANbus data interfaces
Communications Low Gain Antennas for omni-directional coverage; S-band transponder with PSK-PM modulation and range & range rate capability for radio-navigation; 8 kbit/s downlink / 4 kbit/s uplink between Moon and Earth stations
Power Body-mounted 3J GaAs solar cells for 170 W beginning of life power & 122 W end of life power; 24-29 V unregulated bus; 1800 Wh capacity Li-ion batteries
Propulsion 4 liquid MON/MMH bipropellant thrusters: 22 N thrust each, 285 s specific impulse (modulated by AOCS software during burns for reaction control)
Structure CFRP/Al honeycomb construction box with load bearing central thrust tube
Thermal Control Passive: MLI & surface coatings; active: local heaters for eclipse (e.g. propellant tanks)
Ground Segment Ground stations: 25m S-band dish in Raisting and 15m S-band dish in Villafranca; Perth/Kourou for launch and early orbit phase and manoeuvres

Current Teams[edit]

21 teams from 19 European universities in ESA member states and cooperating states were part of the project.

University Country Responsibilities
University of Liège Belgium Narrow Angle Camera Payload
Czech Technical University in Prague Czech Republic AOCS Interface Module
University of Tartu Estonia Assembly, Integration and Verification and Satellite Operation
Supaero France Star Tracker
University of Stuttgart Germany Propulsion System - Gas Feed (Cold Gas Thruster)
Technische Universität München Germany LunaNet Payload & Ground Station
University of L'Aquila and University of Rome La Sapienza Italy Microwave Radiometer Scientific Payload
Politecnico di Milano Italy Attitude Determination and Control System
Politecnico di Milano Italy Propulsion System - Liquid Feed (Bipropellant Thruster)
Warsaw University of Technology Poland Thermal Control Subsystem
Wroclaw University of Technology Poland Communications System
AGH University of Science and Technology Poland Space Environment & Effects Analysis
Politehnica University of Bucharest Romania Attitude Determination and Control System
Politehnica University of Bucharest Romania Structure
University of Bucharest Romania Radiation Monitor Payload
University of Ljubljana Slovenia Simulator
University of Ljubljana Slovenia Radar Payload
University of Maribor Slovenia On-board Data Handling
University of Oviedo Spain Harness
University of Vigo Spain GS/OPS-V team. Ground Station VIL-1 team.
University of Glasgow UK Mission Analysis and Flight Dynamics
University of Southampton UK System Engineering
University of Warwick UK Power Subsystem

Led by ESA's Education Office at ESTEC, the project successfully completed a Phase A feasibility study and continued with the preliminary design during phase B.[3] So far, more than 200 students have been involved in phases A and B of the ESMO project.[1]

Since November 2009 SSTL coordinate and supervise the work of the students, providing system-level and specialist technical support.[1]

Regular workshops at ESTEC and ESOC as well as internships at SSTL were organized to support the student teams in their ESMO related activities and provide training / knowledge transfer. Additionally, facilities at SSTL will be utilized for spacecraft assembly, integration and testing.

As a major milestone during phase B, the System Requirements Review (SRR) for ESMO was performed in 2010. At SRR the system requirements and system design were finalised. Part of the SRR also selected the university teams to participate in the following phases of the project.

After passing a preliminary design review in March 2012, the program was ended as a result of budget constraints.

ESMO was to have been the fourth mission within ESA’s Education Satellite Programme following SSETI Express, YES2 and the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO).


  1. ^ a b c d e "Development of the ESMO student Moon satellite gets under way / Education / ESA". Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f "ESMO mission / Education / ESA". Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  4. ^ Zuiani F., Gibbings A., Vetrisano M., Rizzi F., Martinez C., Vasile M.. Orbit Determination and Control for the European Student Moon Orbiter. Acta Astronautica, 2012, 79. pp. 67-78. ISSN 0094-5765.
  5. ^ Vetrisano M., Van der Weg W., Vasile M., Navigating to the Moon Along Low-Energy Transfers, Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy, 2012, October 2012, Volume 114, Issue 1-2, pp 25-53

External links[edit]