Artist's depiction of the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander, which will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and carry five NASA payloads to the Moon.
Image Source: Intuitive Machines.
NASA has announced the first sixteen payloads that will be delivered to the lunar surface next year under the Artemis program, that will launch the first woman and next man to the moon by the year 2024. Before that, NASA wants to send cargo deliveries that will pave the way for crewed missions. The sixteen payloads scheduled to launch in June/July 2021, range from technology to scientific experiments. SpaceX was one of the several companies selected to conduct this mission under a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. NASA officials wrote in a statement: "We’ve finished the work of assigning science and technology payloads to each of the initial CLPS deliveries. This step allows our commercial partners to complete the important technical integration work necessary to fly the payloads and brings us a step closer to launching and landing the investigations that will help us better understand the Moon ahead of sending the first woman and next man to the Moon."
Out of the sixteen payloads SpaceX will launch six, one of those is a robotic Nova-C lander that will be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Nova-C lander is manufactured by a private Houston-based company called Intuitive Machines, that was awarded $77 million from NASA to develop the lander that will carry up to five payloads. These will be launched onto a dark spot on the Moon called Oceanus Procellarum (shown below).
Image Source: Wikipedia
NASA's priority is to take two astronauts down near the lunar's south pole by 2024 and build up a sustainable human presence on and around the moon's orbit by 2028. Landers help the agency investigate the terrain and take valuable cargo that will be needed to build a base. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement:
"We're honored that Intuitive Machines selected Falcon 9, SpaceX’s tried-and-true workhorse, for this pioneering mission to the moon. Our partnership with Intuitive Machines is a great example of two private companies working together with NASA to advance space exploration."
The Nova-C lander is capable of carrying at least 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) of cargo to any spot on the lunar surface, Intuitive Machines representatives said. During the first Artemis cargo mission, the lander will carry five NASA CLPS payloads and will beam data to Earth for 13.5 days.
The five NASA payloads on Nova-C that SpaceX will launch aboard Falcon 9 to the lunar surface are:
•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.
•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.
Investigations launched on commercial moon flights will help NASA study the surface, and prepare for human missions beginning in 2024 under the Artemis program. Starting next year, the agency aims to fly around two missions per year, every year.
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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.