Lunar mission at the Grimsel Test Site

Few people have had the privilege to walk on the moon. Six international students want to get one step closer to realising this dream on a mission under lunar-like conditions at the Grimsel Test Site.

The surroundings feel unreal. Circular tunnels run for hundreds of metres through the granite of the Aar Massif in the Swiss Alps. Blinking equipment is tucked along the sides of the tunnels and into small niches – state-of-the-art technology for ongoing experiments. Where scientists from all over the world normally conduct research on radioactive waste disposal, astronauts in space suits will soon be attempting their first walk on the moon. The “Space@yourService” student organisation of the technical university in Lausanne is planning the “Asclepios I” lunar mission scheduled to start at the Grimsel Test Site in February 2021: “We know there are natural tunnel systems on the moon that were once formed by lava. A lunar base could be built within such a system. For this reason, the tunnel system at the Grimsel Test Site is very well suited to simulate a lunar mission”, explains Elfie Roy, co-project manager of the Asclepios Project.

For this mission, part of the tunnel system will be converted into a lunar base. Six aspiring astronauts will live on this base for ten days, during which they will explore their surroundings and conduct different experiments. Everything will be run just as it would if the astronauts really were on the moon. The only possibility to get in touch with the outside world is via an online or radio system connecting them to the mission control centre, which is where everything is coordinated. Three shifts will rotate to manage the centre around the clock. “The students at the mission control centre will support the six astronauts to the greatest extent possible. However, if there are any problems with the infrastructure or the technical equipment at the base, the six astronauts will be on their own in applying the necessary measures”, states Roy.

Asclepios project members Théodore Bellwald, Chloé Carrière and Somaya Bennani with Ingo Blechschmidt, Head of the Grimsel Test Site, at their first visit to the research facility (from the left).

The mission is carried out and organised exclusively by students, most of whom attend the technical university in Lausanne, under the umbrella of the “Space@yourService” student organisation. At the moment, preparations are in full swing: The space suits are still in the development phase, and the small lunar rover is being further developed. “Learning by doing” is the motto throughout this entire project. However, the approximately 100 students involved are not entirely on their own. They will be supported by different companies and organisations, including Nagra. “In the Asclepios Project, young people from different countries and fields of study are working together to achieve a common goal. If you want to become a scientist these days, you must have the ability to work in such international and interdisciplinary teams. Nagra is happy to support the future generation of researchers in gaining initial experience because it is key to their development”, says Ingo Blechschmidt, Head of the Grimsel Test Site. A project partnership has sprung from this. “We are very happy to be partners with Nagra and are very curious to see what we will learn and experience during our lunar mission”, says Roy.

The Asclepios Mission:

When: February 2021
Where: Grimsel Test Site
Who: 100 students from the “Space@yourService” student organisation
Duration: 10 days
Aim: To simulate a lunar mission
Project partner: Nagra