The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced on Friday that it is planning to send equipment to the lunar surface in 2020 and 2021. The equipment will be used to carry out scientific investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies so that astronauts can land on the Moon by 2024, the space agency added.
The agency has selected three American companies – Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond – to send the equipment to the Moon as part of the Artemis lunar exploration programme.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the selection of the three commercial landing service providers was a huge step forward for the lunar exploration plans. “Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years,” he added.
NASA said each of the landing service providers would carry specific instruments to the Moon. The potential payload will include instruments for conducting new lunar science, analyse what impact lander and astronaut activity has on the Moon, and help with navigation precision, among other things.
Pittsburg-based Astrobotic will take payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021. Orbit Beyond will reach Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in a crater, by September 2020 while Intuitive Machines will land by July 2021 on Oceanous Procellarum, a dark spot on the Moon. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets will launch both Orbit Beyond and Intuitive Machines but Astrobotic is yet to settle on a delivery rocket, NASA said.
The three companies have been given $77 million (Rs 535 crore to $97 million (Rs 674 crore each to develop their landers. “Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit,” Bridenstine said.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing to send humans to the Moon. In May, the government declared that American astronauts would be back on the Moon in five years, four years ahead of the former target of 2028, The New York Times reported. On May 13, Trump announced that his administration would update the budget to “include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”
NASA has often sent lunar probes into the orbit, but only two missions are active as of now, AFP reported. China has landed twice on the Moon, once in 2013 and once in January on the far side.