NASA’s new Moon missions will involve drilling for water below the surface

NASA has awarded $47m to Intuitive Machines of Houston, USA, for the development of a drill and a mass spectrometer, which will be delivered to the Moon by December 2022 as part of NASA’s new set of Moon missions.

This funding falls under the agency’s new set of Moon missions, which involves the polar resources ice mining experiment, called PRIME-1. The mining project will help NASA search for ice at the Moon’s South Pole and, for the first time, harvest ice from below the surface.

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen, said: “We continue to rapidly select vendors from our pool of CLPS vendors to land payloads on the lunar surface, which exemplifies our work to integrate the ingenuity of commercial industry into our efforts at the Moon.

“The information we’ll gain from PRIME-1 and other science instruments and technology demonstrations we’re sending to the lunar surface will inform our Artemis missions with astronauts and help us better understand how we can build a sustainable lunar presence.”

PRIME-1 will land on the Moon and drill up to three feet below the surface, using a mass spectrometer to measure how much ice in the sample is lost as the ice turns from a solid to a vapour in the vacuum of the lunar environment.

The data from PRIME-1 will help scientists understand in-situ resources on the Moon. PRIME-1 will also support NASA’s plans to conduct a series of Moon missions to establish a sustainable human presence on its surface by the end of the decade. PRIME-1’s early use of the drill and MSolo helps to increase the likelihood of reliable operation of those payloads on VIPER’s mobile platform in the following year.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington, said: “PRIME-1 will give us tremendous insight into the resources at the Moon and how to extract them. Sending this payload to the Moon is a terrific example of our scientific and technology communities coming together with our commercial partners to develop breakthrough technologies to accomplish a range of goals on the lunar surface.”

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