NASA Instruments aboard Intuitive Machines' Nova-C Class Lunar Lander Prepare for Mission to Moon's South Pole

NASA Science and Technology Demonstrations Await Lunar Landing.

Washington, DC NASA's upcoming science and technology demonstrations aboard Intuitive Machines' Nova-C class lunar lander, Odysseus, are awaiting landing in the Moon's South Pole region slated for February 22nd. This mission, part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, will deliver a suite of NASA instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon.

"NASA scientific instruments are on their way to the Moon ' a giant leap for humanity as we prepare to return to the lunar surface for the first time in more than half a century," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "These daring Moon deliveries will not only conduct new science at the Moon, but they are supporting a growing commercial space economy while showing the strength of American technology and innovation."

While en route to the Moon, NASA instruments will measure the quantity of cryogenic engine fuel as it is used, and during descent toward the lunar surface, they will collect data on plume-surface interactions and test precision landing technologies. Once on the Moon, NASA instruments will focus on investigating space weather/lunar surface interactions and radio astronomy. The Nova-C lander will also carry retroreflectors contributing to a network of location markers on the Moon for communication and navigation for future autonomous navigation technologies.

NASA Science and Technology Demonstrations

Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator: This small, CubeSat-sized experiment will demonstrate autonomous navigation that could be used by future landers, surface infrastructure, and astronauts, digitally confirming their positions on the Moon relative to other spacecraft, ground stations, or rovers on the move.

Laser Retroreflector Array: A collection of eight retroreflectors that enable precision laser ranging, a measurement of the distance between the orbiting or landing spacecraft to the reflector on the lander. The array is a passive optical instrument and will function as a permanent location marker on the Moon for decades to come.

Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing: A Lidar-based (Light Detection and Ranging) guidance system for descent and landing. This instrument operates on the same principles of radar but uses pulses from a laser emitted through three optical telescopes. It will measure speed, direction, and altitude with high precision during descent and touchdown.

Radio Frequency Mass Gauge: A technology demonstration that measures the amount of propellant in spacecraft tanks in a low-gravity space environment. Using sensor technology, the gauge will measure the amount of cryogenic propellant in Nova-C's fuel and oxidizer tanks, providing data that could help predict fuel usage on future missions.

Radio-wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the Photoelectron Sheath: This instrument will observe the Moon's surface environment in radio frequencies to determine how natural and human-generated activity near the surface interacts with and could interfere with science conducted there.

Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies: A suite of four tiny cameras will capture imagery showing how the Moon's surface changes from interactions with the spacecraft's engine plume during and after descent.

Retroreflectors on Previous Lunar Missions

NASA and its partners have deployed several retroreflector arrays on previous lunar missions. Apollo 11, 12, 14, and 15 all have arrays on the lunar surface, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has two arrays aboard. Whenever a laser beam is aimed at these arrays, the light will bounce back to the sender, and researchers can determine the distance from the reflection.

The newest retroreflector array, aboard Odysysseus, will join the network of reflectors on the lunar surface, serving as a precise navigation tool to support future missions. The array is composed of eight individual retroreflectors, each about the size of a dime, made of fused silica spheres embedded in a titanium substrate.

More on CLPS

NASA's CLPS initiative is a key part of the agency's Artemis lunar exploration strategy, aimed at expanding our knowledge and technological capabilities while showcasing US industry's ability to expand lunar commerce.

In addition to supporting science and technology demonstrations, CLPS is also pioneering innovative lunar payload delivery capabilities, including payload integration and operations, launching on commercially provided launch vehicles, and landing on a commercially developed lunar lander.

Mission Overview

Intuitive Machines' Nova-C class lunar lander, named Odysseus, is scheduled to land on the Moon's South Pole region near the lunar feature known as Malapert A on Thursday, February 22nd. This relatively flat and safe region is within the otherwise heavily cratered southern highlands on the side of the Moon visible from Earth.

The NASA science aboard will spend approximately seven days gathering valuable scientific data about Earth's nearest neighbor, helping pave the way for the first woman and first person of color to explore the Moon under Artemis.

This mission is the first flight of the Nova-C class lander and the first landing in the Moon's South Pole region. Previous missions have explored the Moon's North Pole, the far side of the Moon, and the lunar surface, but not the South Pole.

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