Like Pink Floyd, a new NASA-funded commercial mission will see us on the “dark” side of the moon.
The agency announced (opens in new tab) On Thursday (July 21), a team led by Draper will task it with transporting a series of science and technology payloads to Schrodinger Crater (opens in new tab), an impact basin on the far side of the moon. Landing of the Draper SERIES-2 lander is scheduled for 2025.
The $73 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, if successful, will mark the first time NASA science has landed on the far side of the moon. (This is the eighth CLPS contract announced to date, and also the first CLPS mission to target the opposite side.)
Related: Any mission to the moon
Only one country has successfully completed a mission on the far side of the moon, and that relatively recently: China’s lander Chang’e 4 with the rover Yutu 2 arrived in the Von Kármán Crater on January 2, 2019. The moon is formed because this site has no direct radio communication with the earth, which means that all information must be beamed to our planet via satellite relays.
NASA said the unmanned long-range mission will gather science in a region vastly different from the manned Artemis lunar missions, allowing for valuable context. (Astronauts will instead work in the south polar region on the near side of the moon.)
“Understanding the geophysical activity on the far side of the moon will give us a deeper understanding of our solar system and provide information that will help us prepare for Artemis astronaut missions to the lunar surface,” Joel Kearns, Assistant Assistant Administrator for Exploration in the Science of the NASA Mission Headquarters in Washington, the agency said in a statement.
CLPS is an agency program aimed at studying the history and environment of the moon using privately developed landers and rovers that transport experiments and equipment to and on the lunar surface.
Draper’s lander design is based on the work of a Tokyo-based US subsidiary of ispace, which introduced the Series 2 robotic lunar lander in 2021. To keep in touch with the earth, according to Draper (opens in new tab) said the company plans to commission Blue Canyon Technologies for two satellites that will be deployed shortly before landing.
Advanced Space, the operator of the CAPSTONE lunar mission currently en route to the moon, will “assist the team with mission planning and satellite operations,” the statement said.
The lunar science payloads that Draper will select in 2019 and 2021 include three packages to probe Schrödinger Crater.
One package is the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS), which will carry two seismometers to measure moonquakes – so scientists can learn how often the other side is hit by small meteoroids.
The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) will study how the moon’s interior can conduct heat and electricity, while the Lunar Surface ElectroMagnetics Experiment (LuSEE) will look for the electrostatic properties behind strange “dancing dust” on the moon’s surface. Among other things, LuSEE will study how the solar wind, or a constant stream of charged particles from the sun, interacts with the lunar surface and magnetic fields.
Artemis is attempting to land humans on the moon in 2025 at the earliest to conduct manned science. The program’s first unmanned test mission, Artemis 1, is poised for launch as early as August 29, while the team continues to work through tasks from a “wet dress rehearsal” launch test earlier in the year.