NASA awarded Texas-based Firefly Aerospace a $93.3 million contract to deliver 10 payloads to the lunar surface aboard its Blue Ghost lander as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), task order 19D. The payloads include some scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to study the terrain ahead of astronauts’ arrival. Today, May 20, Firefly Aerospace announced it selected SpaceX to launch the Blue Ghost lander to the moon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission is currently scheduled for the year 2023. “Firefly is excited to leverage the performance and reliability of Falcon 9 to propel Blue Ghost on the first phase of its journey to the Moon,” said Firefly CEO Tom Markusic.
“Firefly is excited to fly our Blue Ghost spacecraft on the highly reliable Falcon 9, which will deliver NASA instruments and technology demonstration payloads that support NASA science goals and NASA’s Artemis program,” Shea Ferring, Firefly Senior Vice President of Spacecraft, said in a press release. “The high performance of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle permits a lunar transit using minimal Blue Ghost propulsion resources, thereby allowing the lander to deliver more than 150 kg [kilograms] of payload to the lunar surface.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to return humans to the moon by the year 2024. Before then, the agency will send robotic landers and payload to analyze the surface. Firefly Aerospace’s robotic Blue Ghost lander will touch down on a lunar plane called ‘Mare Crisium,’ which is a low basin that measures over 480-kilometers (300 miles) wide. “The Blue Ghost mission will include delivery of NASA payloads that will support scientific lunar research and will contribute to developing a sustainable presence on the Moon as part of the Artemis program,” said SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Tom Ochinero. “We’re honored Firefly selected Falcon 9 for launch.”
“The payloads we’re sending as part of this delivery service span across multiple areas, from investigating the lunar soil and testing a sample capture technology, to giving us information about the Moon’s thermal properties and magnetic field,” said Chris Culbert, manager of the CLPS initiative at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scientific payloads will provide NASA with insight into different aspects of the moon. All the research, instruments, and technology that will launch aboard Blue Ghost is listed below, courtesy of NASA.
- The Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC), which will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment during landing and lander operations. Components will be derived from the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) facility currently on the International Space Station.
- The Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR), which will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon. The retroreflector that will fly on this mission also will provide data that could be used to understand various aspects of the lunar interior and address fundamental physics questions.
- The Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI), which will capture images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind.
- The Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System (RadPC), which aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.
- The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder (LMS), which is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.
- The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER), which is designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.
- The Lunar PlanetVac (LPV), which is designed to acquire lunar regolith from the surface and transfer it to other instruments that would analyze the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
- Stereo CAmeras for Lunar Plume Surface Studies (SCALPSS 1.1), which will capture video and still images of the area under the lander from when the engine plume first disturbs the lunar surface through engine shutdown. Long-focal-length cameras will determine the pre-landing surface topography. Photogrammetry will be used to reconstruct the changing surface during landing. Understanding the physics of rocket exhaust on the regolith, and the displacement of dust, gravel, and rocks is critical to understanding how to best avoid kicking up surface materials during the terminal phase of flight/landing on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
- The Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS), which will generate a non-uniform electric field using varying high voltage on multiple electrodes. This traveling field, in turn, carries away the particles and has potential applications in thermal radiators, spacesuit fabrics, visors, camera lenses, solar panels, and many other technologies.
- The Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is based on GPS. LuGRE will continue to extend the reach of GPS signals and, if successful, be the first to discern GPS signals at lunar distances.
List Source: NASA
Featured Image Source: Firefly Aerospace
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.