NASA is paving the way for man's return to the moon by gearing up for a 2019 robotic lunar campaign, aimed at launching several scientific instruments that will scope out the lunar environment and help prepare astronauts for future moon exploration missions.
This new endeavor will entail a series of commercial delivery missions, for which the space agency is looking to contract private space companies that can be ready to ship out cargo to the moon as early as next year.
"As NASA shifts human exploration back to the Moon, U.S. commercial partnerships will be a key to expediting missions and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface," NASA officials wrote in a news release.
Among the science gear to make the first trip to the moon are all the four instruments of the former Resource Prospector mission, the space agency announced. Although NASA decided to scrap its first planned robotic mission last month, the Resource Prospector's tools will play an important part in the 2019 robotic missions on the lunar surface.
"We conducted a thorough science and engineering assessment of Resource Prospector and determined all four instruments are at a high technology readiness level, are appropriate for science on the Moon, and will make flights on future Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions," Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.The four Resource Prospector science projects included in NASA's 2019 robotic lunar campaign are the Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer Subsystem (NIRVSS), the Neutron Spectrometer Subsystem (NSS), the Water Analysis and Volatile Extraction (WAVE) instrument, and a regolith and ice drill combo.
While NIRVSS is tasked with monitoring the lunar surface in order to identify water and other volatiles, NSS will be taking a close look under the Moon's crust to search for hydrogen. At the same time, WAVE will be analyzing lunar samples to measure how much water and volatiles are extracted from below the surface.
According to Andrucyk, depending on each instrument's landing site, the Resource Prospector tools will offer a better understanding of the lunar environment ahead of sending astronauts to the moon.
During a public town hall hosted on May 17, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine touched on the importance of finding commercial partners for launching lunar exploration missions that target the discovery of volatiles on the moon.
"We know there are volatiles at the poles on the Moon, and quite frankly, that water ice could represent rocket fuel," said Bridenstine.
"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 pointed out.
Uncovering what type of resources lie beneath the moon's surface will be the first step in establishing a future lunar outpost, which NASA has slated for 2022.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the space agency had already publicized its plans for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a space station designed for future scientific experiments on the moon, and which NASA wants to start building next year. This lunar outpost will also serve as a "way station" for astronauts traveling to and from Mars.In advance of the potential manned missions that will be launched in the future to explore the moon, NASA has already begun developing a nuclear power source that can help establish and fuel a lunar outpost. Coined as the Kilopower project, the nuclear space reactor proved capable of powering long-term exploration missions in a demonstration test carried out at the beginning of May.