Like Pink Floyd, a new NASA-funded commercial mission will see us on the “dark” side of the moon.
The agency reported (opens in a new tab) On Thursday (July 21), it will task a team led by Draper with carrying a variety of scientific and technological payloads to Schrödinger Crater (opens in a new tab), an impact basin on the far side of the moon. Touchdown of the Draper SERIES-2 lander is planned for 2025.
The $73 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, if successful, will represent the first time NASA science has touched down on the far side of the moon. (This is the eighth CLPS contract announced so far, and also the first CLPS mission to target the other side.)
Related: Every mission to the moon
Only one country has completed a mission on the other side of the Moon, and relatively recently: China’s Chang’e 4 lander with the Yutu 2 rover arrived at the Von Kármán Crater on January 2, 2019. The complexities of landing on the other side of the Moon arise because this since it is out of direct radio communication with Earth, which means that all information must be sent to our planet through satellite relay.
NASA said the unmanned Farside mission will gather science in a region very different from the manned Artemis lunar missions, providing valuable context. (Astronauts will instead work in the south polar region on the near side of the moon.)
“Understanding 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, deputy assistant administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, the agency said in a statement.
CLPS is an agency program that aims to study the history and environment of the Moon using privately developed landers and rovers that carry experiments and equipment to and on the lunar surface.
Draper’s lander design is based on work by a U.S. subsidiary of Tokyo-based ispace, which unveiled the Series 2 robotic lunar lander in 2021. To stay in touch with Earth, Draper’s statement said (opens in a new tab) said the company plans to contract Blue Canyon Technologies for two satellites that will be deployed just before landing.
Advanced Space, the operator of the CAPSTONE lunar mission en route to the moon, will “support the team in the mission planning and operations of the satellites,” the statement added.
The lunar science payloads Draper will ferry, selected in 2019 and 2021, include three packages to investigate the Schrödinger Crater.
One package is the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS), which will have two seismometers to measure moonquakes – so scientists can learn how often the far side is hit by small meteoroids.
The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) will investigate how the lunar 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 lunar surface. LuSEE will also investigate how the solar wind, or the constant flow of charged particles from the sun, interacts with the moon’s surface and magnetic field, among other investigations.
Artemis is attempting to land humans on the moon by 2025 at the earliest to conduct manned science. The program’s first unmanned test mission, Artemis 1, could launch as soon as Aug. 29 as the team continues to work through tasks from a launch test earlier this year.