ESA’s commercial partner SSTL 1st commercial lunar comms satellite Lunar Pathfinder will be delivered to the Moon orbit by NASA.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd SSTL has invested in the development of the 1st European commercial lunar relay communication satellite Lunar Pathfinder in partnership with ESA. It will provide lunar communications services for its planned 8 years lifetime, laying the foundations for ESA’s Moonlight constellation. ESA will act as an anchor customer for the service, enabling polar and far-side missions to the Moon. The Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft is due to launch to its targeted lunar orbit in 2026.

The Lunar Pathfinder service launch is enabled by an ESA-NASA collaboration. Through the Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) CS-3 task order, NASA has selected the US commercial provider, Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, that will transport the Lunar Pathfinder to the required Lunar Orbit.

The Lunar Pathfinder services will become operational right after launch in 2026, supporting the CS-3 mission. After this initial mission, the Lunar Pathfinder services will be available for ESA and NASA, as well as any other commercial lunar users, on a commercial basis.

The selection of the commercial lunar delivery provider is a key milestones towards the concretisation of an intensive international collaboration. ESA will continue to support the activities leading up to launch, supporting SSTL’s development of Lunar Pathfinder.

The CS-3 mission will deliver 3 payloads:

Lunar Pathfinder

The Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft is designed to provide affordable communication relay services to lunar missions via S-band and UHF links to lunar assets on the surface and in orbit around the Moon, and an X-band link to Earth. It also hosts payload such as lunar navigation experiments and a  radiation monitor - important for human explorers.

Target: Lunar Frozen Orbit

Partners: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd SSTL & ESA


The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night payload will study the Moon’s radio environment and potentially take a first look at a previously unobserved era in our cosmic history.

Target: Shielded Zone of the Moon (SZM) – The far side of the Moon surface

Partners: Collaboration between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley, Space Science Laboratory, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Managed for NASA by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

User Terminal

The User Terminal payload will be used to commission the Lunar Pathfinder and ensure its readiness to provide communications service to LuSEE-Night.

Target: Lunar Frozen Orbit

Partners: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

What do the team say about the project?

Bernhard Hufenbach

ESA is looking forward to working with NASA and Firefly to make this mission a success and demonstrate the strength of combining international cooperation and commercial procurement approaches for accelerating the development of a lunar economy.

Bernhard Hufenbach

Commercialisation & Innovation Team Leader

European Space Agency (ESA)

Brice Dellandrea

ESA is pleased to welcome Firefly as the final piece of the puzzle in this challenging endeavour! We look forward to working with them, NASA, SSTL and all the other involved stakeholders to make this mission a resounding success very soon.

Brice Dellandrea

Lunar Pathfinder System Engineer

European Space Agency (ESA)

Lunar Pathfinder Status

Lunar Pathfinder is a first step towards ESA’s ambitious Moonlight initiative to create a network of communications and data relay satellites serving users worldwide. Such satellites could also provide navigation data for lunar exploration, just as today we navigate using Galileo and GPS on Earth.

Lunar Pathfinder has started its System Critical Design Review (CDR) process and will soon reach the Key Performance Gate 3 enabling the thorough review of the detailed design of the communication service.

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