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Funding Doubts Eclipse Moonlander Proposal
NAPLES, Italy — Germany has abandoned its effort to get its European Space Agency (ESA) partners to help finance a lunar lander, having decided that it cannot find sufficient backing from other nations to make it worthwhile to continue, ESA and German government officials said Nov. 20.
The decision was made by the German government just before ESA government ministers arrived in Naples, Italy, for a two-day meeting to determine how much, and where, they will invest in ESA-managed space initiatives in the coming years.
Moonlander had been on shaky ground from the start. With few other nations willing to take part in the initial studies, the German Aerospace Center, DLR, had been obliged to take a 71 percent share of the initial two-year contract.
ESA spent 13 million euros ($17 million) with Astrium of Germany to investigate what it would take to launch a small lander to the lunar south pole in 2019 for a six-month mission to study a portion of the Moon that remains largely unknown.
ESA and Germany had hoped that a follow-on contract, to take the mission to its critical design review, could be supported by ESA governments. That work, for two years, had been budgeted at about 100 million euros.
ESA had agreed to start the effort even if only 30 percent of that sum were found. But with Spain as Moonlander’s second-largest contributor up to now, and the Spanish government’s spending difficulties still a topic of front-page news, it was not to be.
At a news conference in Naples Nov. 20, ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina said ESA managers and German government officials had agreed it was better to take Moonlander off the table rather than add to what is already a complicated two-day conference.
Moonlander project managers had estimated that the total cost of the mission, including the lander’s launch and operations, would be 500 million euros.