NASA selects new experiments for commercial delivery to the Moon in 2026
A privately developed spacecraft will carry a new suite of science equipment to the Moon in 2026 to support NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, if all goes according to plan.
The agency has selected two sets of instruments as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which aims to study the Moon’s history and environment using gear provided by landers and rovers developed by individuals. Besides the scientific value, such work will help NASA determine how best to support the Artemis astronauts in the harsh lunar environment, agency officials said.
The new science equipment will be delivered to the surface in 2026, a NASA official said in a statement. (opens in a new tab) Thursday (June 2). In part, the instruments will examine a strange lunar feature called the Gruithuisen domes, which formed mysteriously by magma on a world lacking plate tectonics and large amounts of liquid water.
The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) will focus on this “rare form of lunar volcanism,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in the release.
Additionally, a biological experiment on a small device based on cubesat will separately study how yeast is affected by low gravity and high radiation on the surface of the moon.
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Lunar-VISE includes two instruments on a stationary lander and three on a yet to be selected CLPS rover. The mission will target the top of one of Gruithuisen’s domes to study lunar regolith (soil) to understand the formation history of the element. The lead investigator is Kerri Donaldson Hanna, planetary geologist and assistant professor of physics at the University of Central Florida.
The biological investigation is called the scientific suite LEIA (Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications). A species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), a convenient proxy for understanding cellular activity and DNA in humans, will be placed on the lunar surface to assess its reaction to the harsh environment. The principal investigator is Andrew Settles, synthetic biology manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
Mission orders to complete both of these investigations are forthcoming, NASA said. The agency also selected two project scientists to coordinate science activities and the conduct of these surveys: John Karcz of NASA Ames (Lunar-VISE) and Cindy Young of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia (LEIA).
The selected experiments are the second round of NASA’s Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) program. The first set was announced in December 2021.
Artemis seeks to send humans to the moon no earlier than 2025 as part of a long-term program to perform crewed lunar research. The program’s first uncrewed test mission, Artemis 1, could launch as early as August, provided it overcomes technical issues that halted a key “wet-suit rehearsal” launch test in April.