NASA has awarded a contract to Intuitive Machines of Houston to deliver research to the Moon in 2024, including a technology demonstration. This mission is known as the IM0-3 mission, and it is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative and the Artemis program.
Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander investigations will focus on Reiner Gamma, one of the Moon’s most enigmatic natural features. Reiner Gamma, also known as a lunar swirl, is one of the most visible lunar swirls. It is located on the western edge of the Moon. Lunar swirls, how they form, and their relationships are still a mystery to scientists.
“This delivery to the Moon will help the U.S. expand our capabilities and learn more about this interesting region,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Observing lunar swirls can give us information about the Moon’s radiation environment and perhaps how to mitigate its effects. In addition, with more and more science and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface, we can help prepare for sustainable astronaut missions through Artemis.”
The contract will be worth $77.5 million, including end-to-end delivery services such as payload integration, delivery from Earth to the Moon’s surface, and payload operations.
The four investigations delivered to Reiner Gamma as part of the IMO-3 mission are expected to weigh around 200 pounds. They include NASA’s lunar vertex payload, Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE), MoonLight retroreflector, and Lunar Space Environment Monitor (LUSEM).
As NASA continues to plan multiple commercial deliveries to the Moon, future payloads could include additional rovers, power sources, and science experiments, as well as technology demonstrations that will be incorporated into the Artemis programme later.
This could aid in unravelling the mystery of lunar swirls. In addition, examining them could reveal important details about the Moon’s magnetic field and how to protect ourselves from the harsh solar winds that exist there.