NASA has awarded Intuitive Machines of Houston approx. $ 47 million to supply a drilling rig combined with a mass spectrometer to the Moon by December 2022 under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. The delivery of the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment known as PRIME-1 will help NASA search for ice at the Moon’s south pole and, for the first time, harvest ice below the surface.
“We continue to rapidly select suppliers from our pool of CLPS suppliers to land payloads on the lunar surface, exemplifying our work to integrate the ingenuity of the commercial industry into our efforts on the Moon,” said NASA Assistant Director of Science Thomas Zurbuchen . “The information we receive from PRIME-1 and other scientific instruments and technology demonstrations that we send to the moon’s surface will inform our Artemis missions with astronauts and help us understand how we can build a sustainable lunar presence.”
PRIME-1 lands on the moon and drills up to approx. 3 meters below the surface. It measures with a mass spectrometer how much ice in the sample is lost to sublimation when the ice turns from a solid to a vapor in the lunar environment. Versions of PRIME-1’s drill and Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations, or MSolo, will also fly on VIPER, a mobile robot that will also search for ice at the Moon’s South Pole in 2023. NASA lands the first woman and next man at the Moon’s South Pole it following year.
“PRIME-1 will give us tremendous insight into the resources of the Moon and how we extract them,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “Sending this payload to the Moon is a great example of our scientific and technological community coming together with our commercial partners to develop cutting-edge technologies to achieve a number of goals on the moon’s surface.”
STMD’s Game Changing Development program funds PRIME-1. Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California, is developing an ice-mining drill. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in collaboration with INFICON in Syracuse, New York, is developing the mass spectrometer.
The data from PRIME-1 will help scientists understand in situ resources on the moon. PRIME-1 contributes to NASA’s search for water at the Moon’s poles and supports the Agency’s plans to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon before the end of the decade. PRIME-1’s early use of the drill and MSolo will help increase the likelihood of reliable operation of these payloads on VIPER’s mobile platform in the following year.
Through the CLPS initiative, NASA is tapping its commercial partners to quickly land scientific instruments and technology demonstrations on the Moon with the first flights scheduled for next year. An important part of NASA’s Artemis program, CLPS flights will support a variety of robotic lunar activities prior to a human return to the Moon as well as throughout this decade.