The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said on 1 July that it has selected 12 new science and technology “payloads” that it expects to help it study the Moon and explore more of its surface as part of the agency’s Artemis lunar program.
The selected investigations and demonstrations are expected to help the agency to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 as a way to prepare to send humans to Mars for the first times.
They will go to the Moon on future flights through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project which allows “rapid acquisition of lunar delivery services” for things that “advance capabilities for science, exploration, or commercial development of the Moon”.
According to NASA, many of the new selections incorporate existing hardware designed for missions that have already flow. Seven of the investigations are focused on answering questions in planetary science or “heliophysics” – the study of the effects of the Sun on our solar system – and five will “demonstrate new technologies”.
NASA’s plans for lunar exploration are based on a two-phase approach, focusing first on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 – and then on establishing a “sustained human presence” on the Moon by 2028.
“The selected lunar payloads represent cutting-edge innovations, and will take advantage of early flights through our commercial services project,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.
“Each demonstrates either a new science instrument or a technological innovation that supports scientific and human exploration objectives, and many have broader applications for Mars and beyond,” he added.
Here are just a few of the selected investigations:
This small, fast-moving rover can drive beyond communications range with a lander and then return to it, allowing investigations that stretch within one kilometre of a lander. MoonRanger will aim to continually map the terrain it traverses and transmit data for future improvements to its systems.
The principle investigator on this project is: Andrew Horchler of Astrobotic Technology, Inc., Pittsburgh.
Sharing a name with the Norse god and guardian of Asgard, Heimdall is a flexible camera system built for conducting lunar science using commercial vehicles. It will use a single digital video recorder and four camera to model the properties of the Moon’s “regolith” – the soil and other material that makes up the top layer of the lunar surface – and “characterize and map geologic features” as well as potential landing or “trafficability” hazards, among other goals.
The principle investigator on this project is: R. Aileen Yingst of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.
The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder
Using a flight-spare magnetometer – a device that measures magnetic fields – the Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The magnetometer in questions was originally made for the MAVEN spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Mars.
The principle investigator on this project is: Robert Grimm of the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.
PlanetVac is a technology for acquiring and transferring lunar regolith from the surface to other instruments that would analyse the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
The principal investigator on this project is: Kris Zacny of Honeybee Robotics, Ltd., Pasadena, California.
SAMPLR: Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith
SAMPLR is another sample acquisition technology that will make use of a robotic arm that is a flight spare from the Mars Exploration Rover mission, which included the long-lived rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
The principal investigator on this project is: Sean Dougherty of Maxar Technologies, Westminster, Colorado.