According to the BBC the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, will lead a robotic mission to the south pole of the Moon in 2025. The original launch date of 2020 has been pushed out for budgetary reasons.
The European Space Agency will participate in the mission.
Roscosmos and the ESA hope to find water, helium-3 and other chemicals which could be used to create fuel for missions within the solar system and support a permanent human settlement.
Dr. James Carpenter, ESA’s lead scientist for the project described the reasons the Moon’s south pole was chosen as the landing site:
“The south pole of the Moon is unlike anywhere we have been before. The environment is completely different, and due to the extreme cold there you could find large amounts of water-ice and other chemistry which is on the surface, and which we could access and use as rocket fuel or in life-support systems to support future human missions . . . “
The landing site is named Aitkin Basin, an impact crate 1,600 miles in diameter and 8 miles deep. It is partially exposed to sunlight. The dark portions of the basin are among the coldest in the solar system reaching temperatures of minus 270 degrees Celsius.
The highest and lowest lunar elevations are located within the crater, from the 8,000 meter ridges to a minus 6,000 meter depression.
The origins of the Basin are a matter of some discussion. A direct impact large enough to create the crate should have pushed material to the surface from as deep as 200 kilometers. Analysis of the material to date discounts that possibility.
Support exists for the theory that the crater was created as a result of an impact at low speed and low angle.
The Basin is curious too in that the Moon’s crust in the Basin is only about 30 kilometers compared with 60 to 80 kilometers in the immediately surrounding area.
Roscosmos will provide the lander, the Luna 27.The landing guidance system though will be provided by ESA. The system will use a laser imaging system called LIDAR to assess the suitability of a particular site in the Basin. The system will be able to act autonomously making the final decision itself as to where Luna 27 touches down.
Luna 27 is not a rover. Where it lands, it explores.
Once down the exploration will be undertaken by a special drill being developed by the Italian company Finmeccanica. The regolith in the shaded areas of the Basin is extremely hard and the drill will have to penetrate a surface frozen by temperatures as low as minus 270 Celsius. To date the drill has been tested on surfaces roughly half as cold.
The drill will be tasked with penetrating two meters into the lunar surface and returning samples to a laboratory on Luna 27. The laboratory is similar to the one the ESA put on board the Philae lander for tis work on Comet 67P.