Monday, July 22, 2024

NASA selects science instruments for Artemis astronaut deployment

NASA has selected the first science instruments that astronauts will deploy on the surface of the Moon during Artemis III. Once installed near the lunar South Pole, these instruments will be crucial in collecting valuable scientific data about the lunar environment, the lunar interior, and how to sustain a long-duration human presence on the Moon. This data will be useful for NASA’s future missions to send astronauts to Mars.

“Artemis marks a bold new era of exploration, where human presence amplifies scientific discovery. With these innovative instruments stationed on the Moon’s surface, we’re embarking on a transformative journey that will kick-start the ability to conduct human-machine teaming—an entirely new way of doing science,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “These three deployed instruments were chosen to begin scientific investigations that will address key Moon-Mars science objectives.”

The instruments have been designed to address three important science objectives of the Artemis mission. These objectives include gaining a better understanding of planetary processes, investigating the character and origin of lunar polar volatiles, and mitigating exploration risks. These instruments require unique installation that necessitates deployment by humans during moonwalks.

While all three payloads have been selected for further development to fly on Artemis III, the final decision on the mission manifest will be made at a later date. The members of these payload teams will become part of NASA’s Artemis III science team.

The first instrument unveiled by NASA is the Lunar Environment Monitoring Station (LEMS). It is a compact, autonomous seismometer suite designed to carry out continuous, long-term monitoring of the seismic environment, specifically ground motion from moonquakes, in the lunar south polar region.

LEMS will help to characterize the regional structure of the Moon’s crust and mantle, which will provide valuable information to lunar formation and evolution models. It received four years of NASA’s Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation funding for engineering development and risk reduction.

LEMS is expected to operate on the lunar surface for three months up to two years and may become a key station in a future global lunar geophysical network. LEMS is led by Dr. Mehdi Benna from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The second one is Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (LEAF), which will investigate the effects of the lunar surface environment on space crops. It will be the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space-radiation and partial gravity.

Plant growth and development data, along with environmental parameters measured by LEAF, will help scientists understand how plants grown on the Moon can be used for human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond. LEAF is led by Christine Escobar of Space Lab Technologies, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado.

The Lunar Dielectric Analyzer (LDA) measures the regolith’s ability to propagate an electric field. This parameter is critical in the search for lunar volatiles, especially ice. LDA gathers essential information about the Moon’s subsurface structure, monitors dielectric changes caused by the changing angle of the Sun, and looks for possible frost formation or ice deposits.

LDA is an internationally contributed payload led by Dr. Hideaki Miyamoto of the University of Tokyo and supported by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

“These three scientific instruments will be our first opportunity since Apollo to leverage the unique capabilities of human explorers to conduct transformative lunar science,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These payloads mark our first steps toward implementing the recommendations for the high-priority science outlined in the Artemis III Science Definition Team report.”

The upcoming Artemis III mission is set to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon for the first time in over half a century. The mission will focus on exploring the south polar region of the Moon, which is located within 6 degrees of latitude from the South Pole. Interestingly, some of the proposed landing sites for the mission are located among some of the oldest parts of the Moon. Additionally, the permanently shadowed regions in this area provide a unique opportunity to study previously unstudied lunar materials and learn more about the Moon’s history.

With the Artemis campaign, NASA plans to land the first woman, first person of color, and first international partner astronaut on the Moon. This mission is not only about long-term exploration for scientific discovery but also about promoting diversity and inclusion in the space sector. Ultimately, the long-term goal of the Artemis campaign is to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon that will serve as a stepping stone for future human missions to Mars.