Through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, NASA is working with American companies to deliver scientific, exploration, and technology payloads to the Moon’s surface and orbit. The science investigations and technology demonstrations delivered to the lunar surface through CLPS are part of the agency’s broader goal of returning humans to the Moon through Artemis, and the success of CLPS could help further establish American leadership in the global and commercial space industries.
Astrobotic’s first orders for scientific payload delivery were awarded in May 2019. Astrobotic will deliver NASA payloads on its first flight to the lunar surface using the company’s Peregrine lunar lander. These NASA payloads will investigate specific aspects in and around the landing site. Astrobotic also will carry some non-NASA payloads from other organizations.
The original landing site for Astrobotic’s flight within Lacus Mortis, which is in the northeast quadrant of the lunar nearside of the Moon, was chosen by Astrobotic to suit its lander performance and safety, as well as Astrobotic’s preferences. However, as NASA’s Artemis activities mature, it became evident the agency could increase the scientific value of the NASA payloads if they were delivered to a different location. The science and technology payloads planned for this delivery to the Moon presented NASA scientists with a valuable opportunity, prompting the relocation of the landing site to a mare – an ancient hardened lava flow – outside of the Gruithuisen Domes, a geologic enigma along the mare/highlands boundary on the northeast border of Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, the largest dark spot on the Moon. The Domes are suspected to have been formed by a sticky magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, formations like these need significant water content and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the Moon, lunar scientists have been left to wonder how these domes formed and evolved over time. With the selection of the Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE), a suite of instruments that will investigate the origin and composition of the Gruithuisen Domes in 2026 on a separate CLPS delivery, relocation of Astrobotic’s Peregrine CLPS flight to a mare near the Domes will present complementary and meaningful data to Lunar-VISE without introducing additional risk to the lander.
CLPS providers are responsible for managing their activities to ensure they are compliant with NASA schedule requirements. While NASA is the primary customer purchasing a flight to send its payloads to the lunar surface, CLPS vendors also work with other customers to send non-NASA payloads to the Moon.
Follow along for more updates on Astrobotic’s upcoming flight in 2023 and other CLPS news!
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