The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) has released the third iteration of its Global Exploration Roadmap with some important changes including the moon as an important step and the increased role of the private sector.
The Global Exploration Roadmap is the product of 15 national space agencies which includes the Canadian Space Agency. However, it appears not every member endorsed the updated roadmap. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) logo does not appear on the new roadmap. The omission is not a mistake. The reason for the DLR not officially endorsing the report is unclear. SpaceQ contacted the DLR but has yet to hear back at time of publishing.
The countries and their respective space agencies that make up the ISECG that have endorsed the new roadmap include Australia, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States as well as the European Space Agency.
The Moon in the Pathway
Unlike the previous roadmap, which was published in August of 2013, this roadmap brings the moon back into focus with the addition of an international Deep Space Gateway (DSG) concept. The roadmap defines the DSG as “a small human-tended facility around the Moon which will play an important role in sustainable human space exploration. Initially, it supports human and robotic lunar exploration in a manner which creates opportunities for multiple sectors to advance key goals.”
Canada has already discussed its preliminary DSG ideas and has been seeking input from the Canadian space community.
As a precursor to the roadmap release, earlier in January the ISECG released a white paper which outlines the “Scientific opportunities enabled by human exploration beyond Low-Earth-Orbit.” The paper includes substantial contributions from Canadians.
Some of the mission scenarios now listed for the moon include;
In Lunar Vicinity: Establish a platform (Deep Space Gateway)
- Learn more about living in deep space.
- Operate robotic missions to and on the lunar surface.
- Stage crewed missions on the lunar surface (Human Lunar Lander).
- Enhance science of the Moon and the Solar System.
- Assemble and check-out of the transport vehicle to Mars.
On the Lunar Surface: Establish a lunar surface capability
- Support lunar science.
- Prepare and test mission operations for subsequent human exploration of Mars and/or long-duration human activities on the Moon.
- Understand the potential economic implications of lunar development and/or commerce.
The Private Sectors Role
The roadmap also cites the importance of private sector initiatives and new partnership opportunities.
Specifically the roadmap says “the last five years have seen significant growth in private space exploration activities. Emerging commercial ventures, start-ups, small and medium enterprises, as well as large aerospace companies are aiming to benefit from increased interest and commercial potential as human presence in space is expanded. These developments are not limited to low Earth orbit. Numerous initiatives have early stage private funding to advance technologies and system concepts that will help make the exploration and economic development of the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars, both affordable and achievable.”
The table below outlines the critical technologies identified by the ISECG.
Let’s Not Forget Mars
Mars is not forgotten in the updated roadmap.
Several critical missions need to happen before humans set foot on Mars. This includes a Mars Sample Return mission which the roadmap states as being a “sequence of three missions is envisioned to collect samples, place them into Mars orbit, and return them to Earth. This modular approach is robust, with each mission possessing a manageable number of engineering challenges. The approach also allows the sample return campaign to proceed at a pace determined by available funding and international involvement. The study of Mars as an integrated system is so scientifically compelling that it will continue with future missions implementing geophysical and atmospheric networks, providing in-situ studies of diverse sites and ample opportunity for additional investigations to be accomplished before the arrival of humans to the surface of Mars.”
It’s clear that between 2013 and today, the Global Exploration Roadmap has evolved to take into account the realities and limitations of national space programs, the difficulties of sending humans to Mars directly, and the challenges that are still ahead.
Those in favour of a direct path of humans to Mars will be disappointed. It seems the way to Mars will include a stop at the moon.
The only current scenario that could see a direct path of humans to Mars in the 2020’s would be if SpaceX, with its stated goal of human settlement of Mars, makes a real and credible push that convinces both NASA and Congress.
You can download the ISECG roadmap here.