Next month, nearly half a century since the US finally landed on a spacecraft on the Moon, NASA has announced plans to return. But the agency will go for a ride. Instead of disclosing plans for its space ship, NASA will name private companies that will pay for carrying out scientific experiments on the Moon on small robotic landing sites.
Under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, NASA would buy space on board a few startups annually starting in 2021. The efforts are similar to the agency program that was paid to private space companies by private space companies such as SpaceX Elon Musk for freight delivery International Space Station (ISS). "This is a new way of doing business," says Sarah Noble, a planetary scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, who leads the science page of NASA's planetary plans.
Scientists are ready to drive. "It really feels like the future of lunar exploration," says Eric Jawin, a planetary scientist at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC She and other participants at the annual meeting of the Lunar Research Group Research Group in Columbia, Maryland last week wanted to show NASA , why their small attempts would be worthy of the freeways of the landlords.
Several companies, including Astrobot, Moon Express and iSpace, are struggling to set up a market for the moon. Buying a flight to the moon from providers such as Rocket Lab expects the company to become a carrier for other companies who would like to search for the moon for the constituents of rocket fuel, or collect stones for sale for study. But the contract with NASA is a real reward. For example, Moon Express designed the MX-1, a landing of approximately the size and shape Star WarsR2-D2. But "we will not pull the trigger until we know that we have the CLPS prize," says Robert Richards, executive director of Moon Express in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Companies selected for the CLPS have to deliver at least 10 kilograms of cargo by the end of 2021, says NASA. They are weighed in to find instruments that are ready to fly. "What are you sitting on the shelf now that you can leave the mission immediately?" Noble says. "We are looking for aviation spare parts, engineering models, student projects. That's a little weird call for us." The agency plans to pay up to $ 36 million to adapt eight to twelve existing scientific instruments to initial low landing; by the middle of the next decade, it is striving to build gas instruments for larger landowners who could carry trenches.
The first small commercial porters will be closer to the capabilities in addition to the usual NASA missions. Some of them probably will not succeed, as scientist NASA Thomas Zurbuchen said. They will not survive the lunar night, 2 weeks, when the surface temperature decreases to -173 ° C. They may not be able to land at a particular site. But scientists are still excited to return cameras and other instruments to the surface of the moon, says Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. "This is a great start."
NASA is still exploring destinations for commercial landlords. At the beginning of this year, lunar scientists prepared a list of 16 pages, which are crucial for testing the emerging image of the moon as more active volcanic and richer in water than intended. For example, four years ago, scientists who examined Ina Caldero, a collection of smooth, small volcanic tubers of the month, found that it was relatively free of craters. Observation indicated that before the end of a billion years ago, a few million years ago, vulcanism, which was an inner heatstorm, persistently drowned the landscape. If it is true – and in some disputes, the findings – would stimulate theories about how the moon and possibly rocky planets cool down with time.
On the Aristarchus plateau, 2 miles high, scientists want to study the large volcanic ash deposits generated by explosive erosion caused by gases on the lunar rarity. Thanks to its fine resolution, the ash could make an excellent building block for human habitats. Samples of Marius Hills, a volcanic shield that may have erupted for quite some time, could reveal how the moon developed with water, carbon monoxide and other volatile substances over time. And a glimpse of continuously overshadowed craters on the Lochite poles could confirm whether there was some water frozen there, says Brett Denevi, a planetary geologist at the Laboratory for Applied Physics at the Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland.
The first small landings allow only small steps towards these scientific objectives. But the agency could eventually support commercial robotic model feedback missions that Astrobotic and Moon Express offer. "We could say:" I want 2 kilograms of lunar regolith from such a location, "said John Thornton, President of the Astrobot Board of Management in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Returned samples could help researchers with a multiannual goal: dating old and young craters dictate age estimates of surfaces over the solar system.
NASA also wants to fly people in the vicinity of the moon, but in their spaceship. Builds a Gateway, a small base that would host an astronaut up to 20 months at the same time for a couple of months at a time, under a pressure of one-tenth of the size of the ISS. Gateway, which NASA will cost at least $ 3 billion for the first few sections, would not have the orbit of a moon, but would follow a weekly loop around a distant gravity point – a bad starting point for lunar observers. "We are not 100% reliable about its value for lunar science," says Ryan Watkins, a lunar scientist at the Institute of Planetary Science in St. Petersburg. Louis, Missouri. Noble admits that Gateway can be more valuable for learning the sun or the rest of the universe.
Ben Bussey, NASA's chief researcher for human research, says the agency is trying to take into account the concerns of scientists. For example, the advantage will be to equip a station with a robotic arm that is required to attach experiments to the exterior. It explores the possibility that reusable space vehicles can re-land landlords, patterns, and instruments between the Gateway and the low lunar orbit, says Bussey.
Rising over these moon plans is fearful that they will change. The Republicans in the Congress proposed the return of the moon under former President George W. Bush, only that the administration of former President Barack Obama would emphasize the asteroid visit in the deeper space, as a springboard for Mars. So far, the Congress under the leadership of the Republican government has fully funded the agency's monthly plans: the draft law on spending for 2019 contains $ 500 million for Gateway and more than $ 200 million for NASA's initial approaches and scientific plans. Now lunar scientists must provide their support to newly established democrats, says Neal. If NASA finances some small landlords and the program changes again, Denevi adds: "this will only be another one that has been wasted for a decade."