NASA now knows where it will send its PRIME-1 mission, which will lay the groundwork for resource extraction and the internet on the Moon.
Among the many projects underway at NASA, there is one that could be particularly important for the future. Baptized Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment, or PRIME-1, this experiment will aim to test resource mining directly on the Moon; and now we know exactly where.
After months of reflection, NASA has finally decided on the landing spot: the mission will take place on a ridge near Shackleton crater. It is an area which presents many peculiarities that can be exploited by the mission’s moon lander, called Nova-C.
For starters, NASA astronomers believe they have toexcellent chances of finding ice buried in the basement, which is the most important criterion. The site also benefits from a exposure very interesting. It is indeed located in a place that will never pass in the shadow of the Moon; this will allow the device to maintain permanent contact with the Earth.
But this positioning also has some flaws, starting with energy. Indeed, PRIME-1 will be unable to operate if solar energy is lacking. However, these high latitude regions are necessarily less well exposed; it was therefore necessary to find the best possible compromise in order to have both ice, energy and the possibility of communicating.
Laying the foundations for resource production
On the spot, Nova-C will not be idle. Its first objective will necessarily be to test its equipment in real conditions. The most important of these will certainly be the TRIDENT drill. She will explore the ground up to about 1m deep, with the objective of finding traces of water. It is a mass spectrometer called Msolo which will take care of this last part.
This will therefore be the very first demonstration of research and resource extraction on the Moon. So this is a really crucial step for NASA. These are indeed technologies that will soon become important ”critical”; this will be an inescapable condition when establishing “a robust and long-term presence in space”, As the agency wishes to do with Artemis. PRIME-1 will therefore serve as a scout for future extraction missions, such as the VIPER project.
The latest PRIME-1 experiment will be conducted not by NASA but by Nokia. The Finnish manufacturer will take advantage of the mission to test its 4G / LTE network specially designed for the Moon. For this, Nova-C will drop off a small rover which will trudge for about 1.5 km; its objective will then be to communicate with the lander, who in turn will transmit the message to Earth.
The Lunar Web is coming
Here again, this is an important experience, because it is potentially foundational. It’s a test that could lay the groundwork for the very first lunar cellular network, which NASA and Nokia plan to deploy. from 2022. The agency would then have a solid, stable, and high-speed communication system between Earth and its satellite. Here again, this is an essential prerequisite for the smooth running of the Artemis program.
Finally, the last experiment will be the Micro-Nova, another small robot. This time it is a hopper, that is to say that it will move by means of small successive jumps. This small machine should be able to carry around 900 grams of payload over a distance of around 2.5km. He will use it to visit a nearby crater, and carry out some scientific surveys that he will then transmit to Nova-C.
Micro-Nova is still at a very experimental stage, but it could pave the way for new exploration services. In the absence of an atmosphere, it could be a good alternative to the Ingenuity helicopter, which assists Perseverance in its mission to Mars.
Now that NASA has decided on the location, it will work out a precise timetable for the mission, which should last about ten days in total. It will then be necessary to wait until the launch, previewed at the end of 2022.