NASA has finalized payloads for its first cargo deliveries to be carried out by commercial lunar landers. These vehicles were created by companies selected to take part in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. There will be 16 payloads that consist of a number of different science and technology experiments, that will be carried by landers created by Astrobiotic and Intuitive Machines. These landers are scheduled to be launched in the next year and will be carrying cargo to the Moon’s surface and help prepare the way for NASA’s mission to return humans to the moon by 2024.
Astrobotic’s lander Peregrine is set to launch aboard a rocket provided by United LAunch Alliance, while Intuitive Machines’ lander Nova-C will be traveling aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket. Both of the landers will be carrying two payloads carrying a Laser Retro-Reflective Array, which is a mirror-based precision locator device for situating the lander itself. They will also be carrying a Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing, it is a laser-based sensor that provides precise navigation during a descent and touchdown. Both payloads are being developed by NASA to ensure safe and controlled targeted landing of the spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. This will be crucial in building a high-tech lunar landing system to support Artemis through the return of human astronauts to the Moon and beyond.
Everything else on both the landers is unique to one vehicle or the other. Astrobiotic is carrying more , but Peregrine can store more cargo because its payload capacity tops out at around 585 lbs. The Nova-C can carry a maximum of 220 lbs.
Nasa has 14 contractors who can potentially help provide a lunar payload delivery service through it CLPS Program. The amounts to a list of approved vendors, who can bid on contracts the agency has available. Other companies on the CLPS list include, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and more. With the use of these two landers, NASA hopes to fly around two missions per year.
Two of the payloads will be integrated onto both the Astrobotic lander and the Intuitive Machines lander. This gives NASA multiple opportunities to gather important data and demonstrate a critical technology needed for future human exploration.
- Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA): LRA is a collection of eight approximately half inch (1.25 centimeter) retro-reflectors – a unique kind of mirror that is used for measuring distance — mounted to the lander. This mirror reflects laser light from other orbiting and landing spacecraft to precisely determine the lander’s position. It is being provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
- Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL): The NDL is a LIDAR-based (LIght Detection And Ranging) sensor composed of a three-beam optical head and a box with electronics and photonics that will provide extremely precise velocity and range sensing during descent and landing of the lander that will tightly control navigation precision for a soft and controlled touchdown on the Moon. NDL is being collaboratively developed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
- Surface Exosphere Alterations by Landers (SEAL): SEAL will investigate the chemical response of lunar regolith to the thermal, physical and chemical disturbances generated during a landing, and evaluate contaminants injected into the regolith by the landing itself. It will give scientists insight into the how a spacecraft landing might affect the composition of samples collected nearby. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.
- Photovoltaic Investigation on Lunar Surface (PILS): PILS is a technology demonstration that is based on an International Space Station test platform for validating solar cells that convert light to electricity. It will demonstrate advanced photovoltaic high-voltage use for lunar surface solar arrays useful for longer mission durations. It is being developed at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
- Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): The LETS radiation sensor will collect information about the lunar radiation environment and relies on flight-proven hardware that flew in space on the Orion spacecraft’s inaugural uncrewed flight in 2014. It is being developed at NASA Johnson.
- Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS): NIRVSS will measure surface and subsurface hydration, carbon dioxide and methane – all resources that could potentially be mined from the Moon — while also mapping surface temperature and changes at the landing site. It is being developed at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
- Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo): MSolo will identify low-molecular weight volatiles. It can be installed to either measure the lunar exosphere or the spacecraft outgassing and contamination. Data gathered from MSolo will help determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources. It is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) for Lunar Surface Volatiles: PITMS will characterize the lunar exosphere after descent and landing and throughout the lunar day to understand the release and movement of volatiles. It was previously developed for ESA’s (European Space Agency) Rosetta mission and is being modified for this mission by NASA Goddard and ESA.
- Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS): NSS will search for indications of water-ice near the lunar surface by measuring how much hydrogen-bearing materials are at the landing site as well as determine the overall bulk composition of the regolith there. NSS is being developed at NASA Ames.
- Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface (NMLS): NMLS will use a neutron spectrometer to determine the amount of neutron radiation at the Moon’s surface, and also observe and detect the presence of water or other rare elements. The data will help inform scientists’ understanding of the radiation environment on the Moon. It’s based on an instrument that currently operates on the space station and is being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
- Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG): MAG will characterize certain magnetic fields to improve understanding of energy and particle pathways at the lunar surface. NASA Goddard is the lead development center for the MAG payload.
Intuitive Machines Payloads
- Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1): LN-1 is a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations. It has flown on the space station and is being developed at NASA Marshall.
- Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS): SCALPSS will capture video and still image data of the lander’s plume as the plume starts to impact the lunar surface until after engine shut off, which is critical for future lunar and Mars vehicle designs. It is being developed at NASA Langley, and also leverages camera technology used on the Mars 2020 rover.
- Low-frequency Radio Observations for the Near Side Lunar Surface (ROLSES): ROLSES will use a low-frequency radio receiver system to determine photoelectron sheath density and scale height. These measurements will aide future exploration missions by demonstrating if there will be an effect on the antenna response or larger lunar radio observatories with antennas on the lunar surface. In addition, the ROLSES measurements will confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory could observe and image solar radio bursts. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.
NASA has 14 companies on contract through CLPS to bid on delivering science experiments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface. Investigations and demonstrations launched on commercial Moon flights will help the agency study Earth’s nearest neighbor, and prepare for human lunar missions beginning in 2024 under the Artemis program.
NASA anticipates advancements in landers and rovers will be needed to expand the range and duration of its science and technology experiments. Through CLPS, the agency plans to work with its partners to send about two deliveries of scientific and research payloads to the Moon per year starting in 2021.