Researchers at ISAE-SUPAERO are working on a lasting human presence on the Moon

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While last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission, the last inhabited journey to the Moon, the “New Space” development has helped relaunch the appeal of the space sector for lunar exploration. After more than fifty years of low orbit flights, NASA’s next lunar mission, Artemis II, scheduled for November 2024, will mark the return of inhabited missions to the Moon and other lunar projects are expected to multiply over the coming years.

The recent enthusiasm for the conquest of space has changed the way these space missions are being organized in order to address new challenges: the reliability of inhabited space bases, the presence of crews over the long term, cohabitation of space systems or the pollution generated by these missions.

ISAE-SUPAERO is involved in numerous research programs to rapidly move towards a new phase of lunar exploration. These programs seek to improve our knowledge of the Moon, develop spacecraft and life systems, optimize the use of resources available in situ and limit the impact of Moon missions from an environmental point of view. Overview of this research.

Engaging in a lunar seismology renewal

Photo de Raphaël Garcia
Raphaël Garcia, researcher in planetary geophysics

In order to anticipate the potential effects of a meteorite impact or a lunar quake on the surface of the Moon, seismology research is being carried out around the development of instruments aimed at probing the vibrations on and just below the Moon’s surface. The Space Systems for Planetology and its Applications research group is particularly focused on getting back to exploring lunar seismology through the “Farside Seismic Suite” (FSS), provided by the JPL/NASA, which will deploy sensors on the hidden side of the Moon by 2025.

The research group, of which Raphaël Garcia is part, is also involved in the “Lunar Quake Service”, which will use the data collected to detect lunar quakes and meteorite impacts and also to perform imaging of the interior of the Moon.

Preparing a lasting presence on the Moon

While inhabited flights to the Moon are currently only planned to last for a few days, research is nevertheless being carried out to eventually enable a permanent human presence on the Moon. The problem of radiation is one of the challenges facing a permanent human presence on the Moon. This is the subject of a thesis by ISAE-SUPAERO which explores possible solutions.

Yulia Akisheva’s thesis, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and TRAD Tests & Radiations and in cooperation with INSERM, is exploring the ability of materials available on the lunar surface to protect astronauts from cosmic rays. Her thesis is supervised by Yves Gourinat. In particular, regolith has been identified as the best material for interior lining of lunar constructions, as it protects against radiation. Other types of materials, metals, or liquids and in particular hydrogen-rich materials, are also being studied.

This research carries out various simulations in order to understand how radioactive particles are deposited and to quantify the doses ingested by the body in order to measure the protective efficiency of the materials studied. A particle accelerator simulation will take place at the beginning of 2024 to test the prototypes arising out of this research in conditions as close as possible to the lunar reality.

Limiting the environmental impact of lunar missions

Photo de Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez
Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, professor in space systems

Beyond the safety of the crews, there is also the question of the environmental impact of space missions, and in particular that of managing space objects in cislunar space. There is currently no system for tracking and monitoring debris in lunar orbit. However, the multiplication of lunar missions could quickly lead to heavy pollution, especially since natural cleaning is not possible given that the atmosphere near the Moon is too fine to allow for this.

This research work is part of the Advanced Spatial Concepts chair created in 2017 at the initiative of ISAE-SUPAERO, Airbus and Ariane Group. The aim is to develop the study of future space concepts from a system and architecture perspective, through research and teaching projects within a Space Advanced Concepts laboratory (SACLab). The chair was renewed in 2022 for a period of 5 years.
At the same time, another thesis supported by CNES and ESA is studying the eco-design of an inhabited space base on the surface of the Moon that would have a low environmental impact, in particular through the use of sustainable resources.

Paolo Guardabasso’s thesis, financed by ESA and Thales Alenia Space and supervised by Gregoire Casalis and Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, is seeking to address this issue. This work led Paolo to simulate the environment of lunar and cislunar debris, based on different scenarios for future moon traffic.

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