NASA has enlisted three companies to help develop new solar arrays to launch Artemis missions to the moon involving astronauts and robots.
This month, the space agency gave Astrobotic Technology, Honeybee Robotics and Lockheed Martin $19.4 million to develop vertical solar arrays that can power equipment for the Artemis program astronauts or robotic systems on the Moon.
“These prototypes will provide promising solutions for sustainable power sources on the Moon, which are key to the success of almost everything we do on the surface,” said Nicky Werkheiser, Director of Technology Development at NASA’s Office of Space Technology. 23 statements (will open in a new tab). “This exciting work is playing a pivotal role that will literally help reinvigorate our exploration of Artemis in the uniquely challenging environment of the Moon’s South Pole.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2025, build the Gateway space station around the moon, and test lunar dwellings, rovers, and gear that astronauts could use to travel to Mars. To do this, astronauts and their robotic assistants will need deployable solar arrays designed to reach upwards to catch sunlight in the dusty lunar environment.
“The vertical orientation and height of these new designs will help prevent power loss at the lunar poles, where the sun does not rise very far above the horizon,” NASA said in a statement. “When the sun is low on the horizon, the moon’s surface can block some of its light, preventing it from reaching solar arrays low above the earth. By placing solar arrays on tall masts, these designs provide continuous light and therefore produce more energy.”
Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, will receive $7 million in NASA solar array funds under the new deal. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic and Brooklyn, New York-based Honeybee Robotics will receive $6.2 million each, according to NASA. All three companies were part of a group of five firms selected by NASA in 2021 to start developing lunar solar arrays.
The new funds are to be used to build and test mast-mounted solar array prototypes so they can be deployed to the moon’s south pole “toward the end of this decade,” NASA wrote.
“The structures must remain stable on sloping terrain and be resistant to abrasive lunar dust while minimizing both mass and packed volume to help bring the system to the lunar surface,” NASA said in the description.
The solar array contracts are part of NASA’s vertical solar array technology project to support long-term operations on the lunar surface.
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