NASA has awarded a US$75.9-million contract to Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to produce and operate eight lunar mission payloads, including nine science and technology instruments to be delivered to the lunar surface in 2022. The objective is to scout the Moon’s south pole in support of NASA’s Artemis program to return American astronauts to the Moon in 2024.
The Artemis program’s ultimate goal is to not only return to the Moon but to establish a permanent US manned presence there. In addition to exploring the lunar surface, the program will seek make the Moon a base for commercial enterprises and to rehearse the technology and procedures needed for the first manned mission to Mars.
However, before the first Artemis lander touches down, a series of unmanned pathfinder missions will be sent first to learn more about the south polar region and test new precision landing technologies.
Working under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, Masten will include the new payloads on its planned XL-1 lander. The company is charged with delivering the experiment payloads, integrating them into the spacecraft, launching the mission, setting down the lander on the Moon, and conducting surface operations for over 12 days.
According to NASA, the nine instruments are:
- Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS): A radiometer that will use infrared measurements to study the Moon’s surface composition, make maps of the surface temperature distribution, and show how the instrument can be used for future lunar prospecting.
- Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): A radiation sensor to measure the radiation present on the lunar surface.
- Heimdall: A flexible camera system consisting of a single digital video recorder and four cameras. In addition, there is a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle regolith imager, and two wide-angle panoramic imagers for studying the lunar soil, as well as surveying landing and traffic hazards.
- MoonRanger: A small autonomous rover weighing under 30 lb (14 kg) to demonstrate new technologies for long-range surface travel and navigation. This will also include a Neutron Spectrometer System for mineral studies and seeking subsurface water deposits.
- Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo): This experiment will look for lunar resources and will measure trace gases left behind by the lunar lander.
- Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS): An instrument that uses the near-infrared spectrum to measure volatiles like methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and water in the lunar soil.
- Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA): An instrument that uses eight small mirrors set at right angles to reflect laser light beamed from Earth or a spacecraft back to its source to allow scientists to measure the distance between the Earth or the craft and the Moon with great accuracy.
- Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith (SAMPLR): A robotic arm to collect, filter, and isolate different-sized articles from the lunar soil.
“The Moon provides great scientific value, and these payloads will advance what we know and help define and improve the science astronauts can do,” says 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.”
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