Surely it will Artemis programcrewed missions – returning humans to the moon for the first time in more than five decades – this will be NASA’s presentation when Artemis actually takes off at the end of this decade.
But behind the scenes, Artemis has a supporting cast: the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which plans to contract with private sector firms to deliver various robotic cargoes to the lunar surface.
And last Thursday (June 10), NASA announced that it had selected three new science experiments to fly to the lunar surface in private rockets as part of the CLPS program. NASA has yet to announce how these payloads will go to the Moon, but they should arrive by 2023 or 2024.
Connected: NASA unveils 16 payloads that private lunar vehicles will bring to the Moon
One of the recently announced scientific payloads is the Lunar Vertex, a lander and rover designed for the Reiner Gamma, a mysterious patch of bright material called the “lunar maelstrom.” We don’t know how lunar eddies form or even what they actually are, but scientists have found that they are associated with areas of strong magnetic fields. So by measuring the magnetic field, Lunar Vertex hopes to shed light on some of the secrets behind this lunar whirlpool.
The other two payloads are a pair of science packs heading for Schrödinger Crater, an impact basin on the far side of the Moon. One is the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS), which will deliver a pair of seismometers to Schrödinger Crater to measure moonquakes under the far side of the moon – and the frequency of small meteoroids.
Third, the Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) hopes to figure out how the interior of the moon conducts heat and electricity. Together, the FSS and LITMS hope to shed light on what lies beneath the far side of the moon.
These experiments may seem pale in comparison to a crewed landing, but they are important for NASA to begin establishing a human presence on the moon for the first time, several years after the China National Space Administration Chang’e 4 the lunar landing robot and its rover Utu 2.
If NASA gets what it wants, CLPS won’t stop there. Artemis hopes to eventually land the humans on the far side. And the agency hopes the program will lay the foundations for people to stay on the moon forever.
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