NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency’s long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars.
“The Moon has unique scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Its proximity to Earth makes it especially valuable as a proving ground for deeper space exploration.”
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon.
“This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon,” said Steve Clarke, SMD’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The selected payloads, along with those that will be awarded through the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads call, will begin to build a healthy pipeline of scientific investigations and technology development payloads that we can fly to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities,” he said.
The selected payloads include a variety of scientific instruments.
- The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer will measure the lunar surface radiation environment.
- Three resource prospecting instruments have been selected to fly:
- The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System is an imaging spectrometer that will measure surface composition.
- The Neutron Spectrometer System and Advanced Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface are neutron spectrometers that will measure hydrogen abundance.
- The Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer for Lunar Surface Volatiles instrument is an ion-trap mass spectrometer that will measure volatile contents in the surface and lunar exosphere.
- A magnetometer will measure the surface magnetic field.
- The Low-frequency Radio Observations from the Near Side Lunar Surface instrument, a radio science instrument, will measure the photoelectron sheath density near the surface.
- Three instruments will acquire critical information during entry, descent and landing on the lunar surface, which will inform the design of future landers including the next human lunar lander.
- The Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies will image the interaction between the lander engine plume as it hits the lunar surface.
- The Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers payload will monitor how the landing affects the lunar exosphere.
- The Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing payload will make precise velocity and ranging measurements during the descent that will help develop precision landing capabilities for future landers.
There also are two technology demonstrations selected to fly.
- The Solar Cell Demonstration Platform for Enabling Long-Term Lunar Surface Power will demonstrate advanced solar arrays for longer mission duration.
- The Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator will demonstrate a navigational beacon to assist with geolocation for lunar orbiting spacecraft and landers.
NASA facilities across the nation are developing the payloads, including Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Nine U.S. companies, selected through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) in November 2018, currently are developing landers to deliver NASA payloads to the Moon’s surface. As CLPS providers, they are pre-authorized to compete on individual delivery orders.
NASA also released the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payload (LSITP) call in October 2018 soliciting proposals for science instrument and technology investigations. The final LSITP proposals are due Feb. 27 and awards are expected to be made this spring.
“Once we have awarded the first CLPS mission task order later this spring, we will then select the specific payloads from the internal-NASA and LSITP calls to fly on that mission. Subsequent missions will fly other NASA instrument and technology development packages in addition to commercial payloads,” said Clarke.
Commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and developing lunar landers for large payloads, to conduct more research on the Moon’s surface is a vital step ahead of a human return.
As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA has announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface by 2028.