|Designer||ESA / JAXA / CSA|
|Operator||ESA / JAXA / CSA|
|Applications||Lunar exploration, sample-return|
|Spacecraft type||Robotic lander, rover, sample-return|
|Launch mass||≈8,500 kg (18,700 lb)|
|Payload capacity||≈1,500 kg (3,300 lb)|
HERACLES (Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capability for Lunar Exploration and Science) is a planned robotic transport system by Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Canada (CSA) that will feature a lander called the European Large Logistic Lander (or EL3), a Lunar Ascent Element, and a rover. The lander can be configured for different operations such as up to 1.5 tons of cargo delivery, sample-returns, or prospecting resources found on the Moon.
ESA approved the HERACLES project in November 2019. Its first mission is envisioned for launch in 2027. The project will be the next phase of ESA's European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P).
The HERACLES transport system will leverage the Lunar Gateway as a staging point. The architecture involves dispatching the EL3 lunar lander from Earth aboard an Ariane 64:slides 7, 9 and 10 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) 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. 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. 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. 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. 
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.
The key objectives of HERACLES include: 
- Preparing for human lunar missions by implementing, demonstrating, and certifying technology elements for human lunar landing, surface operations, and return.
- Create opportunities for science, particularly sample return.
- Gain scientific and exploration knowledge, particularly on potential resources.
- Create opportunities to demonstrate and test technologies and operational procedures for future Mars missions.
The HERACLES EL3 lander concept will consist of the Lunar Descent Element (LDE), which will be provided by Japan's JAXA, 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.
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. The total spacecraft mass will be ≈8,500 kg (18,700 lb) including fuel, with a payload of ≈1,500 kg (3,300 lb).
|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)
Range: >100 km (62 mi)
- Artemis program – Current US spaceflight program aimed at crewed exploration of the lunar surface
- Commercial Lunar Payload Services – A NASA program contracting commercial transportation services to the Moon
- Chandrayaan programme – Indian lunar exploration program
- Chinese Lunar Exploration Program – Chinese lunar research program
- Luna-Glob – Moon exploration programme by the Russian Federal Space Agency
- 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.
- Helping Heracles EL3 to Survive the Long, Cold, Dark Lunar Nights. Doug Messier, Parabolic Arc. 8 December 2019.
- Funding Europe's space ambitions. Jeff Foust, The Space Review. December 2019.
- The Heracles European Large Logistic Lander. ESA. Accessed on 10 December 2019.
- Hera mission is approved as ESA receives biggest ever budget. Kerry Hebden, Room'. 29 November 2019.
- ESA declares success at ministerial meeting. Jeff Foust, Space News. November 28, 2019,
- JAXA & ESA to study feasibility of lunar demonstration mission 'Heracles'. Deyana Goh, Space Tech. 12 March 2018.
- "Landing on the Moon and returning home: Heracles". ESA. 7 June 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
- 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.
- Europe keen to demonstrate Moon ambitions. Jonathan Amos, BBC News. 22 November 2019.
- Landing on the Moon and returning home: Heracles. ESA. Accessed on 10 December 2019.
- 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)
- 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.
- Lunar Robotic Mission Heracles Will Scout for Human Landings. Elizabeth Howell, Space. 28 June 2019.
- HERACLES Concept – An International Lunar Exploration Architecture Study. M. Landgraf, J. Carpenter, and H. Sawada. ESA / JAXA. 2015. (Outdated estimated mass but remains representative).
- Short video of the HERACLES transport system at YouTube.