Space

Tim Peake: the European Space Agency's future missions

From the International Space Station to the Orion capsule and Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, the ESA has bold plans for the future, says the astronaut.. Friday, 9 November 2018

By Oli Reed

Which future space missions is the European Space Agency (ESA) working on?

Tim Peake: The International Space Station has been up there 20 years and has a great life ahead of it. We are already committed to 2024 and it’s likely it will go on several years beyond that. Although we'll probably hand it over to commercial companies between 2024 and 2028. This will free up the national space agencies to go on with deep space exploration programmes.

Here at ESA we’re looking at a partnership to build what’s called the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, or LOP-G. That is working with Americans, Japanese, Canadians, Russians… We want to build a platform smaller than the ISS but still fulfilling several of the same objectives. It’s going to be in an elliptical orbit around the Moon. At the moment we’re developing hardware for that. The ESA is heavily involved.

We’re also building a service module for the Orion spacecraft; the Orion will take the crews to and from the LOP-G. We deliver that first service module later this year. Then other elements of that gateway – habitation module, power propulsion module, airlock, life support systems.

Will the LOP-G help with trips to Mars?

TP: Yes, that's one of the benefits of the orbit that is planned. It allows lunar surface operations and provides a gateway where it can be used by a Mars transportation vehicle which can dock to it.

When is your next trip to ISS?

TP: We have operations on the space station going until 2024. ESA hopes to fly all of my class on two missions. Alex Gerst is the first of my class to go on his second mission; just launched. Luca Parmitano will be the next, next year. The space station hasn't decided the order in which the remainder of us will fly. Hopefully I’ll go back between now and 2024. I’m confident I’ve got a good chance for a second mission.

 

Where do you see as the most exciting place in our solar system to visit?

Mars is incredibly exciting. When you look at Mars and see how similar it was to Earth billions of years ago when it had liquid oceans. The Curiosity Rover recently found organic sulphur and carbon molecules in an ancient lake bed on Mars, and discovered that the planet’s methane cycle rises in the summer by three times as much as it does in the winter. It’s not clear evidence of life but it points to the potential Mars once had for life.

What about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn that have icy crusts with liquid oceans beneath them? Wherever you have liquid water, there is the potential for life as well. On Europa, Enceladus and Titan, for example. Titan is a crazy, crazy place where pressure and temperatures are so extreme that there are liquid lakes of methane. The ESA’s Cassini-Huygens mission landed a probe on Titan. It has photos from the surface which are remarkable. It’s like watching a science fiction movie.

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