NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, CA, to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024, the agency announced on 8 April.
The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies and evaluate radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s ARTEMIS programme.
Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on important lunar exploration activities, awarding this lunar surface delivery as it was scheduled prior to the pandemic.
“Under our ARTEMIS program, we are going to the Moon with all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Commercial industry is critical to making our vision for lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we are sending to the lunar surface ahead of our crewed missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than we ever have before. These CLPS deliveries are on the cutting edge of our work to do great science and support human exploration of the Moon. I’m happy to welcome another of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our payloads to the Moon as soon as possible.”
The $75.9 million (€69.4 million) award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander.
“The Moon provides great scientific value, and these payloads will advance what we know and help define and improve the science astronauts can do,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). “Our commercial Moon delivery efforts are seeking to demonstrate how frequent and affordable access to the lunar surface benefits both science and exploration.”
The payloads to be delivered have been developed predominantly from the two recent NASA Provided Lunar Payloads (NPLP) and Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads (LSITP) solicitations.
The nine instruments to be delivered are:
• The Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS) will deploy a radiometer to explore surface composition and temperature distribution;
• The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) will measure the radiation environment on the Moon’s surface;
• Heimdall is a flexible camera system that includes a single digital video recorder and four cameras: a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle regolith imager and two wide-angle panoramic imagers; to model the properties of the Moon's regolith – the soil and other material that make up the top layer of the lunar surface – and characterise and map geological features;
• MoonRanger is a small robotic rover that weighs under 30lbs and will demonstrate communications and mapping technologies, including autonomous navigation without real-time communications with Earth. It will carry the Neutron Spectrometer System, which will measure the concentration of hydrogen in the Moon’s regolith – a possible indication of the existence of buried water;
• The Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) is a device to measure potentially accessible resources on the Moon’s surface. It will identify gases coming off a lander during touchdown to help scientists understand what elements are naturally present and which are introduced by the lander itself;
• The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) is a tool to measure surface composition and temperature, characterising the variability of lunar soils and detecting volatiles such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and water;
• The Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) is a series of eight small mirrors to measure distance and support landing accuracy. It requires no power or communications from the lander and will be detectable by future spacecraft orbiting or landing on the Moon;
• The Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith (SAMPLR) is a robotic arm that will collect samples of lunar regolith and demonstrate the use of a robotic scoop that can filter and isolate particles of different sizes. The sampling technology makes use of a flight spare from the Mars Exploration Rover project.
NASA has contracted with 14 American companies to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface through competed task orders. The agency plans to issue at least two such task orders per year, through which the companies can propose to take payloads to the Moon. Under the ARTEMIS programme, early commercial deliveries of payloads to the lunar surface missions enable NASA to perform science experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to further explore the Moon and prepare for human missions.
“With the first delivery in 2022, we are continuing to execute our strategy of providing two delivery opportunities per year of science investigations and technology demonstration payloads to the lunar surface,” commented Steven Clarke, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration in SMD.
In May 2019, NASA selected two CLPS providers, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, who are each making progress towards sending payloads to the Moon next year. In February, NASA asked the 14 companies to provide proposals to fly the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which will be the first rover on the Moon to look for and map the distribution of water and other important volatiles at one of the lunar poles. In addition to these deliveries and the delivery to be made by Masten Space Systems, payloads for a fifth lunar delivery are in development. NASA will soon be initiating a new series of payload acquisitions for targeted science investigations for years to come.