On 3 March 2018, at the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) held in Tokyo, Japan’s space agency JAXA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a joint statement which included a proposed lunar demonstration mission tentatively known as Heracles.
According to the statement, both agencies will begin a feasibility study of a possible human lunar demonstrator mission via the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a project that will include the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The mission will be confirmed in 2019 if the study outcome is promising.
Heracles will investigate novel techniques to allow landers to survive the long, dark and cold lunar night as well as demonstrating propulsion that could eventually use lunar resources to produce fuel without having it shipped from Earth. The mission will be the next phase of ESA’s European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P).
ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, Dr David Parker said: “This growing partnership with Japan capitalises on each party’s area of expertise to develop innovative technologies for global exploration.”
In the field of deep space exploration, JAXA and ESA are currently jointly working on BepiColombo, the third mission to Mercury in the history of space exploration. For the mission, ESA will provide a Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA, a Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. Together, these orbiters will study the planet’s interior, magnetic field, surface features and chemistry. The mission is slated to launch in October 2018.