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ESA gives MoonTwins project to UK firm

Brace yourself for the acronym attack

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked aerospace company Astrium to design a moon landing mission dubbed "MoonTwins".

The mission would put two landers on the moon, one at each pole. There they would conduct experiments and try out technologies that might later be used in ESA's planned missions to Mars.

Speaking to the BBC, Mike Healy, director of space science at Astrium, said: "A Mars sample return mission would be very challenging and MoonTwins would help us understand some of the technology elements that would be needed."

In classic space-exploring style, the team behind MoonTwins has worked really hard to make the name work as an acronym. It officially stands for: Moon Technological Walk-through and In-situ Network Science. Nothing forced about that, oh no siree.

The agency would like the probes to travel to the moon on a demonstrator mission planned for some time between 2015 and 2018. They would piggyback another mission to get into space, and from lunar orbit make their own way to the moon's surface.

Although there is still a lot of flexibility in the design, the core goals of the mission are clear: each craft will need to be able to make a soft, controlled landing at a precise location. They won't be rovers, but might be able to do short ascents, allowing them to "hop" to a new location. They will most likely carry seismometers, and possibly other instruments.

The target landing zones are those most likely to hold water, or at least hydrogen, and as such are the most likely places for later human exploitation. ®

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