NASA chooses a landing site at the moon’s south pole for an ice drilling robot

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NASA has set its sights on the South Pole of the Moon in its quest for ice.

This week, the space agency and Intuitive Machines Company announced the Shackleton Crater landing site at the moon’s south pole for a small lander that is slated to launch next year. The location is called “Shackleton’s Connection Ridge” and NASA data suggests ice is lurking beneath the surface, the agency said in a statement Wednesday (November 3).

The robotic mission includes the NASA-1 Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment (PRIME-1) which requires solar power and a view of Earth for communications. The ridge area is expected to provide both, NASA said.

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“Finding a landing spot where we could find ice within a meter of the surface was difficult,” said Jackie Quinn, PRIME-1 project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in the United States. communicated.

“While there is plenty of sun to power the payloads, the surface gets too hot to keep ice within reach of the PRIME-1 drill. being a safe place to land with good communications with Earth. “

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This NASA data visualization image shows the area of ​​a ridge near Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole (seen far right). NASA chose this location to land its Prime-1 ice drilling experiment on Intuitive Machine’s Nova-C lander in 2022. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA sees the PRIME-1 mission as a key step in learning how to exploit resources on the lunar surface. The agency plans to conduct a series of longer human missions to the moon, known as Artemis, later in the 2020s. But to make such an effort sustainable, support NASA, scientists and engineers must practice in situ resource use (ISRU), which consists of using resources in the local environment.

PRIME-1 aims to deploy a drill, called The Regolith Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT), which will attempt to dig up to 3 feet (almost 1 meter) below the surface. The experiment also houses a mass spectrometer that will measure gases that TRIDENT can discover from volatiles, which are elements and compounds that easily convert from gas to liquid and then to solid.

NASA plans to use the “lessons learned” from PRIME-1 to prepare for a more ambitious lunar rover mission, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which will also land at the South Pole in 2023. In September, the The agency announced VIPER’s moon landing site would be just west of Nobile, a crater near the moon’s south pole.

The Intuitive Machines lander, known as the Nova-C, will host further technology demonstration experiments. For example, Nokia will test a “space-hardened” 4G and LTE network to attempt high-speed surface networking, while an Intuitive Machines rover-hopper called Micro-Nova will attempt to retrieve images and scientific data inside a nearby crater. .

Intuitive Machines, along with Astrobotic and Orbit Beyond, were selected in May 2019 for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. CLPS aims to test science experiments and technology demonstrations on the moon through private companies. The selection for CLPS places companies in a pool of qualified candidates, from which NASA can draw for future missions.

NASA then announced in October 2020 that it would pay Intuitive Machines up to $ 47 million to deliver PRIME-1 to the surface, and then in August of this year, Intuitive Machines said it would load a SpaceX Falcon rocket. 9 launch the lander into space and point it towards the moon.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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