NASA recently selected three winning payload projects as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, part of its Artemis program. Two are set to land on the far side of the Moon (which faces away from Earth) so they can collect data about the region for future launches.
Humans haven’t done much exploring of the far side of the Moon. None, actually, until 2019, when China’s Chang’e-4 mission touched down to study the body’s soil and subsurface structure, and to further lunar science in general. Likewise, the two payloads from NASA will study a variety of factors that will help determine whether or not the area is safe to be used as a destination for Artemis’ future astronauts, who would potentially be going to Mars.
One project from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—the Farside Seismic Suite—will land in the Schrödinger impact crater. It will use two seismometers to collect data about the Moon’s tectonic activity. It will also take note of any activity caused by small meteorites and study the Moon’s internal structure.
The goals of that payload will complement those of the other set to land on the lunar dark side. That one, named the Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite, will be equipped with two instruments capable of investigating and analyzing the Moon’s electrical conductivity and internal heat flow.
The one proposal not landing on the dark side of the moon—dubbed Lunar Vertex—is slated to land on Reiner Gamma, a large lunar swirl visible from Earth. Though scientists still don’t have much of an understanding of lunar swirls, they think the swirls are anomalies caused by the Moon’s magnetic field. That’s precisely what that mission intends to study, using an onboard magnetometer, and what we learn from it could possibly provide more insight into the Moon’s interior (and core).
The three proposals were submitted to NASA’s Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) call in 2020. Currently, the three teams behind each of the proposals are still hammering out the details with NASA regarding project financing. Whatever those details end up being, NASA’s goal is to have them on the Moon in 2024.
“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 which will help pave the way for returning astronauts to the Moon through Artemis,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.