NASA chooses Intuitive Machines for mission to visit lunar vortex

NASA has again selected a Houston-based company to launch a shipment of lunar science equipment, this time in 2024.

Intuitive Machines will send four surveys to the moon in 2024 as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to support human landings as part of the Artemis program, according to a November 17 agency statement. .

Intuitive’s Nova-C lander is expected to land at Reiner Gamma, a so-called “lunar vortex,” which is a luminous feature tens of kilometers in diameter that sometimes appears in clusters. These magnetic characteristics could be rich in mineral resources.

Related: Amazing photos of the moon taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

“This delivery to the moon will help the United States expand our capabilities and learn more about this interesting region,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the Directorate of Science Missions, said in the statement.

“Observing lunar vortices can give us information about the moon’s radiative environment and perhaps how to mitigate its effects,” Zurbuchen added. “With more and more science and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface, we can help prepare for sustainable astronaut missions through Artemis.”

The new $ 77.5 million work order follows two more missions led by Intuitive Machines. The initial delivery from the Houston-based company, slated for early 2022, will hit near Vallis Schröteri, the largest valley on the moon. Later in 2022, Intuitive Machines will send the NASA PRIME-1 ice drilling mission to the Moon’s Shackleton Crater in 2022.

The 2024 delivery will include four surveys with a mass of approximately 203 pounds (92 kg). In NASA’s terms, payloads are:

  • Lunar Vertex, which is also part of the Payload Surveys and Moon Surface Research (PRISM). Fixed lander payloads and a rover will perform detailed measurements of the magnetic field, plasma environment, and regolith properties. Lunar Vertex is funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate and is run by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
  • Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) consists of mobile robots programmed to work as an autonomous team to explore the lunar surface, collect data, and map different areas of the moon in 3D. It is run by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • The MoonLIGHT retroreflector is a laser retroreflector that reflects laser beams sent from Earth directly from the Moon to receivers on Earth. This allows very precise measurement of the distances between the reflector and the ground station. MoonLIGHT is managed by the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • Lunar Space Environment Monitor (LUSEM) uses a pair of apertures to detect high-energy particles on the lunar surface. LUSEM will monitor variations in the near-surface space environment when the moon is inside and outside the Earth’s magnetocase – the back end of the magnetic fields surrounding our planet. LUSEM is managed by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) in South Korea.

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