The Italian Space Agency (ASI) and Thales Alenia Space Italia (TAS-I) have recently announced they are partnering to develop and build the Lunar Multi-Purpose Habitat (MPH). It will be a pressurized lunar module, strategic for the Artemis Program, aiming to be the first permanent outpost on the Moon’s surface.
On November 13th, the project kick-off took place, as stated in a press release from ASI. The announcement comes after the approval of the mission from NASA. Just this October, the project had in fact passed the “Element Initiation” review.
This positive evaluation is a first step in the Artemis program, and it means the project has been deemed of great value for the Artemis architecture, encompassing all the necessary technologies, infrastructure, and tools necessary for the return of humanity to the Moon.
The Road to the Moon
The recent project approval represents “Italy’s first important and effective step on the Artemis Accords, in a bilateral effort from NASA and ASI” as stated by Simone Illiano, the MPH Project Manager from ASI. The next big step ahead will be the NASA Mission Concept Review, coming in the first months of 2024.
By then, ASI and TAS-I will have started working together with numerous companies in the Italian aerospace industry. Illiano stated that the project is “already looking to the future” and will be preparing the preliminary design objectives. This is necessary to adhere to the strict development timelines of the Artemis Program.
The main technological parts of the Multi-Purpose Habitat will also be considered in these design objectives, even if they will successively be included in separate contracts for Artemis. The habitat will require numerous life support systems, able to maintain the correct conditions for a safe and comfortable stay of astronauts on the Moon.
For example, the Italian-made Moon base will need to survive the lunar nights at the Lunar South Pole. It will also act as a scientific testbed for experiments and will need to operate in synergy with different rovers or lunar landing crafts.
As stated by the Head of human planetary exploration and robotics programs at Thales Alenia Space, Franco Fenoglio: “ This is a matter of great pride for our company, which has the unique technical and organizational skills to overcome challenges of this kind.”
An expanding list of projects
But the MPH isn’t the only Artemis Program project Thales Alenia Space is working on. The Italian-French aerospace company is also tasked with developing three pressurized modules for the future Lunar Gateway space station in lunar orbit.
The modules ESPRIT and I-HAB are being developed under ESA contracts. The European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure, and Telecommunications (ESPRIT) will provide fuel for the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) of the station. The “I” in I-Hab stands for International, and as the name suggests, it will be a pressurized habitat for astronauts on the Gateway, to be used as living quarters.
Furthermore, the HALO module is being developed for Northrop Grumman, and along with the PPE, it will be the first module of the station to reach Lunar Orbit. Being a larger habitation module, it will also have multiple docking ports and serve as a power delivery platform to all the other parts of the station.
The Artemis Program is going to be the most ambitious strive to the Moon since the Apollo era. Both European and Italian expertise in the sector are becoming more and more integral to the effort, as seen with collaboration in Orion and the Gateway. And with the Lunar Multi-Purpose Habitat, Italy will have played a central role in the great challenge of returning to the Moon to stay.