Topic: Pre-positioning science assets in the vicinity of the Artemis III landing site
In order to pre-position science assets near the future Artemis III landing site, a few major questions must be discussed and addressed, namely what science should be included and where the mission should land. Pre-positioning science assets not only expands the total amount of science that can be completed in the Artemis III mission, but also helps prepare for future human missions by gathering data about the lunar surface in general and the landing site in particular1. In addition, the pre-positioned assets need to be carefully located such that they can be reached by astronauts on future missions while not being so close to a future landing site that any dust kickup could damage instruments or hamper science activities.
At a high level, this area of research enhances the goal of developing sustainable lunar infrastructure by establishing the first piece of physical infrastructure: a useful array of science tools to begin mapping the area for future exploration. Pre-positioned science assets would also begin building a critical database of knowledge about the lunar surface, including ground truth data characterizing the dust and identification of hazardous areas. Once the next mission landed, the pre-positioned science assets would also be part of the first demonstration of surface rendezvous, which is key for building up a sustainable infrastructure.
The biggest challenge to achieving this scientific objective is developing technology for long-term survivability on the lunar surface. No prior NASA lunar surface mission has survived the lunar night, which is a period of 14 Earth days. Pre-positioning science assets requires designs that can survive from the time the assets land on the lunar surface, up to arrival of the Artemis III crew and through at least the entire Artemis III mission. While this timeline is undefined, it will likely involve at least part of a lunar night, since a crew mission would likely be optimized to land at the beginning of a lunar day. Key aspects of long-term survivability include thermal protection, a steady power supply and preventing or overcoming lunar dust buildup. Another challenge to pre-deploying science assets is a lack of interface standards, as highlighted by NASA’s Office of Inspector General in the CLPS program in particular2.
Technology Analysis: Proposals/Missions That Address This Knowledge Gap
A key NASA mission that addresses this science goal is the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER3. VIPER is a rover that will have a 100-day mission to gather data about the water on the lunar south pole, focusing on its origin and distribution. The rover will carry one drill and three spectrometers in order to access and characterize the makeup of the water ice deposits. VIPER is currently scheduled to launch in 2023, and thus has not gathered any data yet, but the data it gathers will help NASA to develop the first water map of the Moon.
On a broader level, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts4, which award money to private companies to develop cargo lunar landers, will also focus on filling this science objective. NASA is already leveraging CLPS as a commercial delivery service to the lunar surface, with multiple awarded contracts that will deliver cargo to the Moon, including pre-positioned science assets5. VIPER will fly on a CLPS mission in 2023, and nine science instruments will fly on a CLPS mission as early as 2022.
Technology Readiness Level Assessment
As of yet, there don’t appear to be figures of merit for assessing the pre-deployment of science assets to the lunar surface. Some potential figures of merit include the number of instruments, the number science goals achieved by the pre-deployed assets, or the number of science goals enabled by the pre-deployed assets.