(Guardian) - Britain could soon be sending probes to the moon if ambitious plans submitted to the UK's space research agency get the go-ahead. Details of two satellites were unveiled yesterday at an international conference of space scientists, who were discussing how Britain might get involved in the European Space Agency's plans to explore the moon and beyond, reports Trend.
"The UK has already completed a feasibility study of two robotic mission options to the surface of the moon focused on exploiting the UK's leadership in small satellites and miniaturised science instruments," said David Parker, head of space science at the government-backed Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).
MoonLITE would be equipped with missile-shaped devices to penetrate two metres into the lunar surface. Launched by 2010, it would carry instruments to investigate the moon's interior and gather information on possible "moonquakes".
A secondary mission, called MoonRaker, would land a craft on the moon and search for suitable sites for future manned bases.
Both proposals were prepared by Surrey Satellite Technology, a company formed by the University of Surrey and based in Guildford. Sir Martin Sweeting, its founder, said the cost of space exploration had fallen enough for the UK to go it alone on a moon mission. He said a small mission might cost в'¬500m (ВЈ335m) today, but the cost could probably be cut by a fifth with advances in satellite technology. Dr Parker said the last year had seen a "remarkable effort" by representatives from 14 worldwide space agencies, including Nasa, Esa and the UK, to find ways to work together to create a global exploration strategy.
Whether a proposed British moon mission gets the go-ahead will depend on further discussions between scientists and funding agencies. The PPARC said it would set up a working group to develop Britain's position in space. Its chief executive, Keith Mason, said: "It will review global and European plans and establish UK interests and opportunities. A report, which will also include a review of the case for human space exploration in the global context, will be submitted to the UK Space Board this summer."
The science minister Malcolm Wicks said: "The great adventure of the next few hundred years is going to be the exploration of space that's going to involve human beings. Robots may go first but human beings are going to follow and for anyone to say British men and women will never explore space in the future is just a nonsense."
His sentiments go against decades of government reluctance to fund a British astronaut programme. "In the 1960s and 70s, people in Britain might have been cautious, which is why we've been careful about manned exploration of space, about the cost side, but I think in this century people will realise the economic benefits as well as the economic costs of this," he said.
Mr Wicks said he wanted to see a closer relationship between Britain and Nasa. Last month he met the agency's administrator, Mike Griffin, to discuss how Britain could get more involved in the American agency's long-term plans to explore the moon and Mars.
The UK is the second-largest European contributor to Esa's Aurora programme, an ambitious plan to explore the moon, Mars and beyond. Current projects include a proposed lander for Mars that will fly on board Europe's ExoMars mission to slated for launch in 2013.