Lunar Mission One - Drilling on the Moon... by Carol Cotterill

In 2024 a remotely operated drill will core up to 100m into the moon. Scientists will wait with baited breath for data streams coming from the drill, relaying information on temperature, porosity of the rocks and other physical properties. When the final core has been brought back up to the surface, capturing up to a billion years of the Moons history, capsules comprising the Ark of Humanity will be put into the hole, as a permanent record of the DNA from millions of people living today for those in the future……..
Lunar Mission One Logo
 Now some might think that I spent my weekend watching Hollywood Science Fiction blockbusters such as Interstellar, Armageddon or Space:1999, and have got my facts mixed up with my fiction. But I assure you that this is not Science Fiction, but UK led Science Fact. Led by the Lunar Missions Trust, Lunar Mission One aims to significantly increase our knowledge and understanding of the moon, its origins and its environment.

        Public Archive - a record of human   
        history and civilisation to date   
Not only will this project look at the suitability of the chosen site for a permanently manned moon base, it will capture imaginations and revitalise scientific engineering and pioneering technology development; stimulate the minds of those in education with endless possibilities; create a public archive of life on Earth and a private archive of millions digital memory boxes to be left on the Moon as a 21st time capsule.

BGS are involved in both the Mission and the Science Teams. Whilst the scientists will have to wait for 10 years for the first data streams to return to Earth, the serious task of building such a drilling system has begun, with Dave Smith (IODP-ESO Operations Manager) from BGS providing vital input from his years working on the extremes in ocean drilling.
So what are the challenges facing this extraordinary endeavour?
BGS RD2 rockdrill
Weight – the total weight of the drill system is to be no more than 10kg…..equivalent to 10 bags of sugar. The current BGS remotely operated rockdrill RD2 weighs 6 tonnes…..6,000 bags of sugar!
CGI still of the lunar module

Power – the drill system must be able to operate from solar panels delivering between 100 – 200W of power……the equivalent of 2 household lightbulbs. RD2 draws 50,000W by comparison – that’s a lot of light bulbs.
Temperature – most remotely operated drills are designed to work at high pressure and temperatures of -2oC - +40oC. Lunar mission one will need a drill that can cope with a temperature range on the surface of -150oc to +20oC, with a drill bit temperature of 350oC (with no cooling system).
CGI still of the lunar module drill
Time – the drill is forecast to advance at 10 – 15cm per hour, meaning that it will take between 3 – 4 months to drill 100m into the moon if there are no problems. However, if the mission takes longer, the system will need to be able to hibernate for up to 4 months when the drilling site passes out of the suns reach, before starting up again as daylight returns!

And now for the science bit…..
Image from Apollo15, Lunar and Planetary Institute
I’m a scientist and someone involved in drilling, so this project fascinates me. What I didn’t know was that in 1971 Apollo 15 hand drilled 2.4m into the Moon, recovering the last and deepest sub-surface information from a lunar borehole. Lunar Mission One hopes to go significantly deeper, and in the process not only recover information on temperature, pressure and rock types as the drill moves deeper, but also a host of other data from the cores when they are brought up to the surface of the Moon and can be accessed by many more scientific instruments, such as Mass Spectrometers to analyse different chemicals present, heat flow sensors, dust and radiation monitors and seismometers. The borehole will also provide a resting place for long term monitoring equipment that will be left on the Moon to provide scientists on Earth with continuous information.

The drill site chosen for this Expedition is the South Pole of the Moon – the location of the largest impact crater in our solar system. So why drill into a site that has been broken up by a meteorite impact? The reason for this is something called the peak ring. When a meteor strikes a solid body such as the Moon, the heat and pressure of the impact can cause the rocks to behave like a liquid, forming a depression at the centre, much like throwing a stone into water. This causes compression of the rock, but also rising up and ejection of some of the molten rock out of the crater. As the rock settles, peak rings made of previously molten rock form around the impact centre. The reason this site is special scientifically is that by melting and disturbing the Moons rocks, it is possible that much older rocks have been brought up closer to the Moons surface, meaning that we don’t have to drill as deep to get an estimated 4.5 billion years of the Moons history back as we would at an undisturbed site.
So can we be part of this adventure into space? The answer is yes – another unique aspect of this project is that it will not be funded by Government or the European Space Agency, but you and me, through Crowd Sourcing. The team launched this project on Kickstarter on November 17th, and have until December 17th to raise the initial £600,000 required to fully activate the project. Fundraising will continue after that for the next 10 years, with an ultimate target of £500 million, of which any surplus will be reinvested back into space science and education.
For further information please follow the website links below, or contact the BGS Press Office (

By Carol Cotterill