With five robotic flights to the Moon already booked through 2023, and a sixth award expected soon, NASA is seeking suites of new science investigations and technology experiments for future commercial lunar deliveries as part of the Artemis program.
The agency issued its Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) Nov. 5, for payloads to be delivered on flights to the lunar surface in late 2023 and early 2024. This call for payloads is expected to be the first of an annual call for payloads that will make up the Science Mission Directorate’s portion of the manifest for future flights within the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payloads Services, or CLPS, initiative.
“Demand for access to the Moon is rapidly increasing as our Artemis program takes shape, and we’re proud to support a growing lunar economy with our CLPS project,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re on track for two flights to the Moon per year, with the first six already ordered or soon awarded. This new call will enable breakthrough science, and especially advance our understanding of the Moon ahead of a human return in 2024.”
The formal PRISM solicitation builds on an earlier Request for Information that requested payload concepts from the U.S. science community for lunar surface investigations. Responses to this RFI informed and guided upcoming solicitations for opportunities to send instruments to the Moon. NASA is seeking science-driven suites of instruments and technology demonstrations for delivery to the Reiner Gamma (lunar magnetic anomaly on the lunar near side) in 2023 and the Schrödinger Basin (impact melt on the lunar far side) of the Moon in 2024.
For the initial phase, Step 1 responses to the solicitation are due Dec. 11, 2020. Proposals must identify only one of the two offered locations. Some technology development and maturation within the proposed project is allowed, but the science justification and ability to deliver on schedule are top considerations for selection. Additional details are available in the formal solicitation online.
As part of the CLPS project, NASA has already made the following awards:
- Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines each have one task order award for deliveries in 2021. Astrobotic will carry 11 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a larger crater on the near side of the Moon, and Intuitive Machines will carry five payloads to the southwest portion of Mare Serenitatis, near the Montes Apenninus region on the Moon.
- Masten Space Systems has one task order award to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the lunar South Pole.
- NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a task order to deliver the PRIME-1 drill and mass spectrometer to the Moon by December of 2022.
- NASA awarded a task order to Astrobotic to deliver the agency’s VIPER rover to the lunar South Pole in late 2023.
- By the end of the year NASA will select a vendor to deliver a suite of payloads to study geophysics within the Mare Crisium basin on the Moon in 2023.
NASA and its partners will continue to study and explore more of the Moon in the coming years as part of the Artemis program. The agency continues to advance its modern lunar exploration program and is preparing to establish a sustainable presence at the lunar South Pole by the end of the decade. Knowledge gained on and around the Moon will help prepare the agency for its next giant leap in exploration – human exploration of Mars.