Planned for 2018, the $800 million mission by the European Space Agency will land a robot probe on the Moon's surface to search for ice that measurements from orbiting spacecraft have suggested may exist at the poles and in the shadows of meteor craters.
If the Lunar Lander mission successfully detects ice or water it could set the stage for manned settlements on the moon, scientists said.
Water is heavy and expensive to transport from the Earth, so finding a source on the moon could sustain astronauts spending extended periods there, they said.
"We want to see if the resources are there to let astronauts live off the land," Simon Sheridan, a researcher at Britain's Open University who is part of the team designing instruments for the spacecraft, told The Daily Telegraph.
"There is evidence of vast deposits of volatile chemicals like water from orbiting missions, but this will be the first ground-based mission to look in a polar region."
At its landing spot the Lunar Lander will drill into the ground, analyze the soil and radio the data back to Earth, researchers said.
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