NASA awarded Intuitive Machines of Houston a contract to provide research, including scientific research and demonstration technology, to the Moon in 2024. Commercial delivery is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative and the Artemis program.
Research on Intuitive Machines' Nova-C is destined for the Reiner Gamma, one of the most characteristic and enigmatic physical features on the Moon. Known as the lunar vortex, the Reiner Gamma is located at the western end of the Moon, as seen from Earth, and is one of the most visible lunar vortices. Scientists continue to learn what the Moon's vortices are, how they are formed and their relationship to the Moon's magnetic field.
Intuitive Machines will receive $ 77,5 million for the contract and is responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, Earth-to-Moon delivery and payload operations. This is Intuitive Machines' third task order award, the first of which is a delivery to Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon in the first quarter of 2022. This is the seventh surface mission award issued to a CLPS partner.
The four surveys that Intuitive Machines will deliver to Reiner Gamma are collectively expected to weigh about 92 kg and include:
- Lunar Vertex is among NASA's options for payloads and lunar surface research (PRISM). It is a combination of fixed payloads and a rover that will make detailed measurements of the magnetic field, the surrounding plasma and the properties of the regolith. Landing and rover data will increase the observations collected in orbit. Together, the observations will help show how these lunar vortices form and evolve - and how they relate to local magnetic fields in the same regions. Lunar Vertex is funded by the organization's Scientific Mission and is run by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
- Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) consists of mobile robots programmed to work as a standalone team to explore the lunar surface, collect data, and map different areas of the Moon in 3D.
- The MoonLIGHT reflector is a laser reflector that reflects laser beams sent from Earth directly behind the Moon to receivers on Earth. This allows very accurate measurements of the distances between the reflector and the ground station. MoonLIGHT is managed by the European Space Agency (ESA).
- The Lunar Space Environment Monitor (LUSEM) uses a pair of apertures to detect high-energy particles on the lunar surface. LUSEM will monitor fluctuations in the near-surface space environment when the Moon is in and out of the Earth's magnetic field. LUSEM is administered by the Korean Institute of Astronomy and Space Science (KASI) in South Korea.
As NASA continues plans for multiple commercial deliveries to the Moon, future payloads that can be delivered with CLPS could include other rovers, power supplies, and science experiments, including technology demonstrations that will later be integrated into the Artemis program.
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