NASA has just chosen Intuitive Machines to ship scientific equipment to the Moon in 2024. As part of the US agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to support the arrival of astronauts, the company will be responsible for ‘send 4 research missions.
According to reports, the company’s Nova-C lander is scheduled to land at the site known as Reiner Gamma. This is what scientists call a “lunar vortex,” a magnetic area that could contain a large amount of mineral resources.
We know that this new deal between NASA and Intuitive Machines is worth $ 77.5 million. It comes after the Houston-based company has already been chosen to launch two other missions by the US space agency. The first will be to deliver equipment near Vallis Schröteri in early 2022, and the second will aim to send NASA’s robot driller, PRIME-1, to Shackleton crater in the same year.
The interest of “lunar vortices”
According to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA in charge of the Science Mission Directorate, this delivery to the moon will help the United States to develop its capacities and to learn more about this region.
Zurbuchen added that observing lunar vortices may provide information about the Moon’s radiation environment. This will be used to find ways to mitigate the effects of radiation. All scientific experiments that will take place on the surface of the Moon will help prepare astronaut missions under the Artemis program.
The 4 research missions to deliver
According to information provided by NASA, the 2024 delivery will consist of 4 research missions. The whole will weigh about 92 kg.
The first mission will be called Lunar Vertex. Detailed measurements of the magnetic field, plasma environment, and regolith properties will be performed by stationary instruments and a rover. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory will be behind this mission, which will be funded by the NASA Science Missions Directorate.
The second mission will be the CADRE or Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration mission. It will consist of sending programmed mobile robots to work as an autonomous team. These robots will explore the lunar surface, collect data, and also establish a 3D mapping of certain areas of the Moon. This mission will be carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.
Then there is the MoonLIGHT mission. The equipment for this mission will consist of a laser retro-reflector which will reflect laser beams sent from the Earth. This will allow a very precise measurement of the distances between the reflector and the earth station. This mission will be operated by ESA.
Finally, there will be the LUSEM or Lunar Space Environment Monitor mission. It will detect high-energy particles on the surface of the Moon. LUSEM will also monitor variations in the near-surface space environment when the Moon is inside and outside the tail of Earth’s magnetosphere. This mission will be managed by KASI or Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute of South Korea.