NASA Seeks More Lunar Science, Technology Experiments for Artemis Program

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.

Earth's Moon
Credit: NASA

Artemis Instrument Ready for Extreme Moon Temperatures

Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida install the radiator for the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility on Sept. 25, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

A versatile instrument designed to help analyze the chemical makeup of lunar landing sites and study water on the Moon as part of the Artemis program has completed an important step in its final assembly.

Teams working on the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations, or MSolo, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installed the radiator – a critical component that will keep the instrument’s temperature stable in the extreme heat and cold it will encounter on the Moon.

MSolo is a commercial off-the-shelf mass spectrometer modified to work in space. NASA will use MSolo to identify molecules on the surface of the Moon. Multiple MSolo instruments are destined for the Moon via the help of NASA’s commercial partners, landing scientific instruments and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

NASA has scheduled MSolo instruments to launch on future robotic missions starting in 2021 at Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon. MSolo is a key component of the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment, or PRIME-1, instrument suite that will use a drill to harvest ice just below the lunar surface in 2022. Later, the technology will be one of three instruments on board NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, VIPER, scheduled to launch to the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023.

On VIPER, the MSolo instrument will help evaluate subsurface soil cuttings brought up by a 3-foot drill in search of water ice and other volatiles that future missions could use as resources. The mission will create the most detailed view of the Moon’s water to date – helping to pave the way for the lunar surface missions with crew beginning in 2024.

NASA Selects Astrobotic to Fly Water-Hunting Rover to the Moon

Illustration of NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) on the surface of the Moon
Illustration of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) on the surface of the Moon. Credits: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

NASA has awarded Astrobotic of Pittsburgh $199.5 million to deliver NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023.

The water-seeking mobile VIPER robot will help pave the way for astronaut missions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024 and will bring NASA a step closer to developing a sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

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