NASA has selected a dozen science experiments and technology demonstrators that could land on the Moon as early as the end of 2019. Slated to fly on commercial lunar missions, the instruments and new technologies were solicited by the space agency's Science Mission Directorate and are intended to support later missions, including the return of US astronauts to the Moon and the first manned mars missions.
NASA's current policy includes not only agency missions to the Moon, but also encouraging commercial ones. In November 2018, NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program selected nine American companies to develop commercial landers to deliver space agency payloads to the lunar surface.
Among the first of these payloads are the 12 experiments announced today:
- Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer: A lunar surface radiation monitor
- An unnamed magnetometer experiment
- Low-frequency Radio Observations from the Near Side Lunar Surface: A radio experiment to measure the density of the photoelectron sheath density near the surface
- A set of three instruments to collect data during entry, descent and landing on the lunar surface to help develop future manned landers
- Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies: A set of cameras for monitoring the interaction between the lander engine plume and the lunar surface
- Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers: Another landing monitor to study the effects of spacecraft on the lunar exosphere
- Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing: A velocity and ranging lidar instrument designed to make lunar landings more precise
- Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System: An imaging spectrometer to analyze the nature of the lunar surface
- Neutron Spectrometer System and Advanced Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface: A pair of neutron experiments for finding out how much hydrogen is present on the Moon
- Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer for Lunar Surface Volatiles: A mass spectrometer for measuring volatiles on the surface and in the exosphere
- Solar Cell Demonstration Platform for Enabling Long-Term Lunar Surface Power: A next-generation solar array for long-term missions
- Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator: A navigation beacon for providing geolocation for orbiters and landing craft
NASA says the next step will be to match specific payloads to specific commercial missions over the coming months. The eventual goal is to test man-rated landers on the Moon by 2024, with astronauts returning by 2028.
"This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon," says Steve Clarke, SMD's deputy associate administrator for Exploration. "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 US commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities."
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