European astronauts could be back on the Moon by 2030, a space boss has claimed.
Jan Woerner, the director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), said he “hopes” the target will be met.
But he believes it is unlikely humans will be on the surface of the Moon in 2024, as NASA aims to do with its Artemis programme.
Prof Woerner said: “What I heard all the time – also during the Trump administration – but what we heard from Nasa is that the schedule to go to the Moon and land people on the surface of the Moon in 2024 is really difficult.
“Therefore I believe that now, with all these changes, the pressure is a little bit off, and therefore I believe there will be humans on the surface of the Moon soon.
“And maybe – I don’t have a crystal ball – but let’s say I’m sure that in 2025/2026 there will be something.
“I hope that we will have some European at the end of this decade over there.
“I say over there – whether it’s the Gateway, or whether it’s the surface of the Moon.
“But of course we don’t want only to bring boots on the surface of the Moon, but also the humans in the boots.”
His remarks came as the ESA said it has signed a further contract with Airbus to build three more European Service Modules (ESM) for Orion, the American-crewed spacecraft for Artemis.
The service modules provide the spacecraft’s primary power and are the “back end” of the American astronaut vehicle, responsible for orbital manoeuvring and position control.
They will be used to fly astronauts to the Moon and provide water, consumables and oxygen.
Andreas Hammer, head of space exploration at Airbus, said: “Europe has entered a new decade of exploration.
“Airbus has some of the world’s best minds in space exploration working on this phenomenal vehicle and this new agreement will facilitate many future Moon missions through international partnerships.”
He added: “Europe is a strong and reliable partner in Nasa’s Artemis missions and the Orion European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this.”
Artemis I, the first non-crewed Orion test flight with one of the modules, will fly in 2021.
The next mission, Artemis II, will see astronauts fly around the Moon and back to Earth.
With Artemis III, Nasa aims to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.