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NASA selects new science investigations for future Moon projects

Posted on 10 Jul 2021 and read 707 times
NASA selects new science investigations for future Moon projectsAs NASA continues plans for multiple commercial deliveries to the Moon’s surface per year, the agency has selected three new ‘scientific investigation payload suites’ to advance understanding of Earth’s nearest neighbour.

Two of the payload suites will land on the far side of the Moon, a first for NASA, although all three investigations will receive rides to the lunar surface as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, part of the agency’s ‘Artemis’ programme. The payloads mark the agency’s first selections from its Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) call for proposals.

Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s science mission directorate, said: “These selections add to our robust pipeline of science payloads and investigations to be delivered to the Moon through CLPS. With each new PRISM selection, we will build on our capabilities to enable bigger and better science and prove technology that will help pave the way for returning astronauts to the Moon through Artemis.”

Lunar Vertex, one of the three selections, is a joint lander and rover payload suite scheduled for delivery to Reiner Gamma — one of the most ‘distinctive and enigmatic natural features’ on the Moon, known as a lunar swirl. Scientists don’t fully understand what lunar swirls are or how they form, but they know they are closely related to anomalies associated with the Moon’s magnetic field. The Lunar Vertex rover will make detailed surface measurements of the Moon’s magnetic field using an onboard magnetometer.

NASA has also selected two separate payload suites for delivery in tandem to Schrödinger basin, which is a large impact crater on the far side of the Moon near the lunar South Pole. The ‘Farside Seismic Suite’ (FSS), one of the two payloads to be delivered to Schrödinger basin, will carry two seismometers: NASA measured seismic activity on the near side of the Moon as part of the Apollo program, but FSS will return the agency’s first seismic data from the far side of the Moon — a potential future destination for Artemis astronauts.

The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS), the other payload headed to Schrödinger basin, is a suite of two instruments that will investigate the heat flow and electrical conductivity of the lunar interior in Schrödinger basin, giving an in-depth look at the Moon’s internal mechanical and heat flow.

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said: “These investigations demonstrate the power of CLPS to deliver big science in small packages, providing access to the lunar surface to address high priority science goals for the Moon. When scientists analyse these new data alongside lunar samples returned from Apollo and data from our many orbital missions, they will advance our knowledge of the lunar surface and interior, and increase our understanding of crucial phenomenon such as space weathering to inform future crewed missions to the Moon and beyond.”