NASA has awarded a $75.9 million contract to Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, to produce and operate eight lunar mission payloads, including nine scientific instruments, to be shipped to the lunar surface in 2022,media New Atlas reported. The goal of the project is to explore the moon’s south pole to support NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon by 2024.
The ultimate goal of the Artemis program is not only to return to the moon, but also to establish permanent Habitat for the United States there. In addition to exploring the moon’s surface, the plan will seek to make the moon a base for commercial enterprises and practice the techniques and procedures needed for the first manned mission to Mars. However, before the first Artemis lander lands, a series of unmanned pathfinder missions will be sent to understand the Antarctic and test new precision landing techniques.
Under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS), Masten will incorporate a new payload into its planned XL-1 lander. The company is responsible for delivering experimental payloads, integrating them into spacecraft, launching missions, landing landers on the moon, and conducting ground operations for more than 12 days.
According to NASA, the instruments are:
Moon Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS): The radiometer will use infrared measurements to study the composition of the lunar surface, map the temperature distribution of the lunar surface, and show how the instrument can be used for future lunar exploration.
Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): This radiation sensor will be used to measure radiation present on the lunar surface.
Heimdall: A flexible camera system consisting of a digital video recorder and four cameras. In addition, there is a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle table rock imager and two wide-angle panoramic imagers for studying lunar soil and surveying landing and traffic hazards.
MoonRanger: A small autonomous rover weighing less than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) to demonstrate new technologies for long-distance lunar surface travel and navigation. It will also include a neutron spectrometer system for mineral research and the search for water beds below the surface.
Mass spectrometer observation lunar operations (MSolo): The experiment will look for lunar resources and will measure the trace gas left behind by the lunar lander.
Near-infrared volatile spectrometer system (NIRVSS): Instruments that use near-infrared spectroscopy to measure methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and water and other volatile gases in lunar soil.
Laser Reflector Array (LRA): An instrument that uses eight small mirrors set at right angles to reflect laser light from earth or spacecraft back to its source, enabling scientists to measure the distance between the Earth or the spacecraft and the moon with great accuracy.
Sample collection, morphological filtration and lunar driftstone detection (SAMPLR): Using a robotic arm to collect, filter, and separate items of different sizes from lunar soil.
“The moon provides tremendous scientific value, and these payloads will drive what we know and help define and improve the science that astronauts can do,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s Science Mission Agency (SMD). “Our commercial lunar delivery efforts are seeking proof, frequent and affordable access to the lunar surface, and it is beneficial for science and exploration. “