Commercial interest in returning to the Moon.
Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC

NASA is orchestrating a robotic lunar campaign, one that will rely upon commercial partners to deliver instruments and technology to the Moon’s surface.

Among the instruments to be flown are those once to be onboard the now scuttled NASA Resource Prospector. That rover project once aimed to be the first mining expedition on another world. Using a suite of instruments to locate elements from a lunar polar region, the rover was designed to excavate volatiles such as hydrogen, oxygen and water from the Moon.

NASA Resource Prospector.
Credit: NASA

High technology readiness

Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters has said that a thorough science and engineering assessment of Resource Prospector was recently done. It was determined that all four Resource Prospector instruments are at a high technology readiness level, ready for flight on future Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions.

Credit: NASA



The science potential for each instrument varies with the potential landing site, and most can be enhanced “through mobility after landing,” according to a NASA statement. Those instruments are:

— Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer Subsystem, or NIRVSS, to monitor the Moon’s surface and identify water and other volatiles

— Neutron Spectrometer Subsystem, or NSS, to search for hydrogen below the Moon’s surface

— A regolith and ice drill

— Water Analysis and Volatile Extraction (WAVE) instrument to accept and heat samples to quantify water and other volatiles extracted from below the surface

Lunar subsurface

These early instruments will be an important step to better understanding what’s below the Moon’s surface.

“We know there are volatiles at the poles on the Moon, and quite frankly, that water ice could represent rocket fuel,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a recent public town hall meeting.

“If we have the capability to generate rocket fuel from the surface of the Moon, and get them into orbit around the Moon, we could use that to build a fueling depot. If we want to make that happen though, we will need commercial partners,” Bridenstine said.

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