NASA has awarded contracts worth more than 400 million dollars to further two major lunar exploration projects, which is sending an ice-drill to the South pole of the moon and demonstrating innovations required for future lunar explorations.
The PRIME-1 is 40-kilogram equipment intended to scour water on the lunar surface for up to one-meter depth. Some of the payload, a mass spectrometer, a drill, and a near-infrared spectrometer, will be tested during the mission as they are planned to be used in NASA’s VIPER mission in 2023. This will be the second mission for Intuitive Machines, having received the first CPLS task order in May 2019 for a 2021 mission.
The value of both PRIME-1 and VIPER missions was stressed by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who spoke earlier in the same meeting. He said that these missions are critical in understanding the lunar surface, better understanding its volatiles, and help the agency find promising landing sites for upcoming Artemis missions. The announcement comes two days after NASA granted 15 awards to 14 companies in the CPLS under its Tipping Point program – the awards intended to further technological developments that could support the Artemis mission.
Four companies, SpaceX, Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, and United Launch alliance, collectively got $256.1 million for their work in cryogenic fluid management. The 4 firms intend to demonstrate propellant technology such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen storage and transfer in space.
Eta Space will use its $27 million for testing liquid oxygen storage systems on a satellite called LOXSAT 1. SpaceX was awarded $53.2 million to demonstrate how to transfer, in space, 10 tons of liquid oxygen between Starship tanks. Lockheed Martin got $89.7 million for testing storage technologies of liquid hydrogen storage on a satellite. Using the Centaur Upper Stage of its Vulcan rocket, United Launch Alliance will use the $86.2 million grant smart cryogenic propulsion system.
The other 10 companies got the remaining Tipping Point funds to work on various technology needed for different services on future moon missions. The awards, ranging from $2.4 million to $41.6 million, will include power systems technology, communication systems, and a robotic arm.
Intuitive machines received the highest award to develop a “hopper” capable of traveling for up to 2.5 kilometres over the lunar surface with a one-kilo payload. This technology, Bridenstine says, is going to help NASA obtain high-resolution mapping and help the agency to learn how to locate highly accurate landing points at the lunar surface.