As the U.S. and the world face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, NASA is utilizing virtual presence and communication tools to safely advance these important lunar exploration activities and deliver this mission to the lunar surface as planned by the pandemic
NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California to send eight probes—with nine science and technology instruments—to the moon's south pole in 2022 and operate them there to help lay the groundwork for manned missions to the lunar surface starting in 2024.
The probes, which include instruments for evaluating the composition of the lunar surface, testing the accuracy of landing technologies and assessing radiation on the moon, are being sent as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Probe Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the Artemis program.
As the U.S. and the world face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, NASA is utilizing virtual presence and communication tools to safely advance these important lunar exploration activities and deliver this mission to the lunar surface as planned by the pandemic.
"As part of our Artemis program, we are going to the moon with all of America," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The commercial industry is critical in making our vision of lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we send to the lunar surface ahead of our manned missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than ever before. These CLPS shipments are at the forefront of our work to do excellent science and support human exploration of the Moon. I am happy to welcome another one of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our probes to the moon as soon as possible."
The $75.9 million contract includes end-to-end services for sending the devices, including integration of satellites, launch from Earth, landing on the surface of the moon and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these probes on the moon using its XL-1 lander.
"The Moon has great scientific value, and these probes will advance what we know and help define and improve the science that astronauts can do," said Thomas Zerbakken, deputy director of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). "The purpose of the activity of commercial shipments to our moon is to show how frequent access and within the financial possibilities before the moon is beneficial for science and research."
The probes that will be sent were mainly developed within the framework of the two calls for proposals NPLP (lunar probes provided by NASA) and LSITP (pre-lunar instrument and technology probes).
The nine devices that will be shipped are:
The Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS) will deploy a radiometer—a device that measures infrared wavelengths of light—to study the composition of the lunar surface, map its heat distribution, and demonstrate the instrument's applicability to other lunar resource exploitation activities.
A linear energy transfer spectrometer (LETS) is a sensor that will measure the radiation environment on the lunar surface. Hemated is also flown on the CLPS flight to the moon in 2021.
Heimdall is a flexible camera system for performing lunar science on commercial spacecraft. This innovation includes one digital video recorder and four cameras: a low-angle imaging device with a wide angle, a regular imaging device with a narrow angle and two panoramic imaging devices with a wide angle. This camera system is designed to model the properties of the lunar surface - the soil and other materials that make up the upper layer of the lunar surface - and to characterize and map geological forms. Among the other purposes of this device is the characterization of landing hazards or potential offenses.
MoonRanger is a small robotic vehicle that weighs less than 14 kg and will demonstrate communication and mapping technologies. It will demonstrate the ability to move quickly over long distances on the surface of the moon with autonomous navigation and without the ability to communicate with Earth in real time. This is a technology that can enable the exploration of targets that are far from the landing sites on the moon. MoonRanger will carry the neutron spectrometer system, which will measure the concentration of hydrogen in the moon's surface - a possible indication of the existence of buried water.
The Lunar Activity Observing Mass Spectrometer (MSolo) is an instrument for measuring resources that may be accessible on the lunar surface. It will detect gases coming out of a lander while landing on the lunar surface to help scientists understand which elements come from the lunar surface and which originate in the lander itself.
The Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) is a tool for measuring the composition and temperature of the soil surface. The device will characterize the variables of the lunar soil and identify volatiles such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and water.
A laser retroreflective array (LRA) is a series of eight small mirrors to measure distance and support landing accuracy. It does not require electricity or communication from the lander and in the future it will be able to be located by spacecraft in orbit around the moon or landing on it.
The Sample Acquisition, Morphological Screening and Examination of Lunar Regolit (SAMPLR) is a robotic arm that will collect samples of lunar regolit and demonstrate the use of a robotic spoon that can filter and isolate particles of various sizes. The sampling technology uses a flyby from the Mars Rover project.
NASA signed contracts with 14 American companies to send science and technology to the surface of the moon through competitive mission orders. It plans to issue at least two such mission invitations a year through which companies can bid to take probes to the moon. As part of the Artemis program, missions of early commercial deliveries of probes to the lunar surface will allow NASA to conduct scientific experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to further explore the moon and prepare for manned missions.
"I am very pleased to award the next delivery services mission order to Masten Space Systems," said Steven Clark, director of research at SMD. "With the first delivery in 2022, we continue to execute our strategy of providing two delivery opportunities per year of scientific investigation and technology demonstration probes to the lunar surface."
In May 2019, NASA selected two CLPS providers, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, and both are progressing toward sending probes to the moon next year. In February, NASA asked the 14 companies to submit proposals to fly the Polar Volatile Exploration Vehicle (VIPER), which would be the first vehicle on the Moon to search for and map the distribution of water and other important volatiles at one of the Moon's poles. In addition to these deliveries and the delivery to be carried out by Masten Space Systems, pedicles for a fifth mission to the moon are under development, and soon NASA will begin a new series of pedicle acquisitions for targeted scientific investigations in the coming years.
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