Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capability for Lunar Exploration and Science (HERACLES)
DesignerESA / JAXA / CSA
OperatorESA / JAXA / CSA
ApplicationsLunar exploration, sample-return
WebsiteArgonaut – European Large Logistics Lander
Spacecraft typeRobotic lander, rover, sample-return
Launch mass≈8,500 kg (18,700 lb)[1]
Payload capacity≈1,500 kg (3,300 lb)[1]
Payload to (({to))}
StatusIn development

HERACLES (Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capability for Lunar Exploration and Science) is a planned robotic transport system to and from the Moon by Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Canada (CSA) that will feature a lander called the European Large Logistic Lander (EL3, or Argonaut), a Lunar Ascent Element, and a rover.[2] The lander can be configured for different operations such as up to 1.5 tons of cargo delivery,[3] sample-returns, or prospecting resources found on the Moon.[4]

The system is planned to support the Artemis program and perform lunar exploration using the Lunar Gateway space station as a staging point.

As of 2023, the HERACLES project has been superseded by the European Large Logistics Lander (EL3) project, and is no longer actual.[5]

Project overview

The first proposed landing site is within the Schrödinger crater, located near the south pole on the far side of the Moon.

The HERACLES architecture was outlined by 2015.[6] ESA approved the HERACLES project in November 2019.[3][7] Its first mission is expected to launch in 2030.[8] The project will be the next phase of ESA's exploration program Terrae Novae (known as European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P) before 2021).[9]

The HERACLES transport system will leverage the Lunar Gateway as a staging point.[10] The architecture involves dispatching the EL3 lunar lander from Earth aboard an Ariane 64[11]: slides 7, 9 and 10 [12][2] which would land on the Moon with a disposable descent module.

The EL3 lander will have a landing mass of approximately 1,800 kg (4,000 lb)[13] and will be capable of transporting a Canadian robotic rover to explore, prospect potential resources, and load samples up to 15 kg (33 lb) on the ascent module.[14] The rover would then traverse several kilometers across the Schrödinger basin on the far side of the Moon to explore and collect more samples to load on the next EL3 lander.[15][13] The ascent module would return each time to the Lunar Gateway, where it would be captured by the Canadian robotic arm and samples transferred to an Orion spacecraft for transport to Earth with the returning astronauts.[16] The ascent module would then be refueled and paired with a new descent module dispatched from Earth.

The second and third landings would each have 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload available for alternate uses such as testing new hardware, demonstrating technology and gaining experience in operations. The 4th or 5th lander mission will provide a sample return.[13]

The project will require the development of a reusable lunar ascent engine, four of which could be clustered to power a reusable crewed or robotic lander in the future. Later missions will include a pressurised rover driven by astronauts and an ascent module for the crew to return to Earth.[13][16]

Key objectives

The key objectives of HERACLES include:[14]

System elements

The HERACLES EL3 lander concept will consist of the Lunar Descent Element (LDE), which will be provided by Japan's JAXA,[1] the ESA-built Interface Element that will house the rover, and the European Lunar Ascent Element (LAE) that will return the samples to the Lunar Gateway.[14]

The rover, to be developed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will have a mass of 330 kg (730 lb) and will feature a "radioisotope power system" that will permit operations during the long and frigid lunar nights.[14] The total spacecraft mass will be ≈8,500 kg (18,700 lb) including fuel, with a payload of ≈1,500 kg (3,300 lb).[1]

HERACLES elements Agency Mass[14][6] Notes
Lunar Ascent Element (LAE) ESA 110 kg (240 lb) Launch samples from the Moon to the Lunar Gateway.
Interface Element ESA 100 kg (220 lb) Hosts rover and its deployment ramps
Lunar Descent Element (LDE) JAXA Powered soft landing of ≈1,500 kg payload, including all elements and rover.
Rover CSA 330 kg (730 lb)
Science instruments: ≈90 kg (200 lb)
Long-duration rover.
Range: >100 km (62 mi)

Reusable ascent engine development

Nammo have been awarded a contract to evaluate engine performance requirements and 'find' the best engine design.[17] The engine may be fed by electrically driven pumps, from low pressure propellant tanks, which may enable in-space refueling.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d JAXA’s Lunar Exploration Activities. Hiroshi Sasaki. Director, JAXA Space Exploration Center (JSEC). Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 17 June 2019; 62nd Session of COPUOS, Vienna.
  2. ^ a b Helping Heracles EL3 to Survive the Long, Cold, Dark Lunar Nights. Doug Messier, Parabolic Arc. 8 December 2019.
  3. ^ a b Funding Europe's space ambitions. Jeff Foust, The Space Review. December 2019.
  4. ^ The Heracles European Large Logistic Lander. ESA. Accessed on 10 December 2019.
  5. ^ "Landing on the Moon and returning home: Heracles".
  6. ^ a b HERACLES Concept – An International Lunar Exploration Architecture Study. M. Landgraf, J. Carpenter, and H. Sawada. ESA / JAXA. 2015. (Outdated estimated mass but remains representative).
  7. ^ Foust, Jeff (28 November 2019). "ESA declares success at ministerial meeting". SpaceNews. Archived from the original on 13 April 2022.
  8. ^ Foust, Jeff (21 October 2022). "ESA finalizes package for ministerial". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 November 2022.
  9. ^ JAXA & ESA to study feasibility of lunar demonstration mission 'Heracles'. Deyana Goh, Space Tech. 12 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Landing on the Moon and returning home: Heracles". ESA. 7 June 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  11. ^ Landgraf, Markus (25 May 2016). "HERACLES: Preparing Human Exploration by Integrated Certification of Crew and Hardware for Lunar Surface Operations" (PDF). SpaceRef. ESA. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  12. ^ Europe keen to demonstrate Moon ambitions. Jonathan Amos, BBC News. 22 November 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d Landing on the Moon and returning home: Heracles. ESA. Accessed on 10 December 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d e HERACLES: An ESA-JAXA-CSA Joint Study on Returning to the Moon. H. Hiesinger, M. Landgraf, W. Carey, Y. Karouji, T. Haltigin, G. Osinski, U. Mall, K. Hashizume, HERACLES Science Working Group, HERACLES International Science Definition Team. 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2019 (LPI Contrib. No. 2132)
  15. ^ Landgraf, Markus; Carpenter, James; Sawada, Hirotaka (20–22 October 2015). HERACLES Concept - An International Lunar Exploration Study (PDF). Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (2015). Bibcode:2015LPICo1863.2039L. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  16. ^ a b Lunar Robotic Mission Heracles Will Scout for Human Landings. Elizabeth Howell, Space. 28 June 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Developing a high-performance rocket motor for the Heracles mission to the Moon".