NASA announces landing site for ice-mining experiment in 2022

Washington: NASA has announced that its ice-mining experiment, due to launch in 2022, will land on a ridge on the lunar South Pole, not far from Shackleton crater — a location engineers and scientists have assessed for months.

NASA data from spacecraft orbiting the Moon indicate this location, referred to as the “Shackleton connecting ridge”, could have ice below the surface.

The area receives sufficient sunlight to power a lander for roughly a 10-day mission, while also providing a clear line of sight to Earth for constant communications. It also is close to a small crater, which is ideal for a robotic excursion.

To select this final landing location, experts from NASA, Arizona State University, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Nokia, and Intuitive Machines created “ice-mining” maps of the lunar surface using lunar remote sensing data.

The Polar Resources Ice-Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1) will land on the lunar surface attached to a robotic lander.

PRIME-1 consists of a drill paired with a mass spectrometer — a 4G/LTE communications network developed by Nokia of America Corporation, and Micro-Nova, a deployable hopper robot developed by Intuitive Machines.

After landing, the PRIME-1 drill using The Regolith Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT) instrument will attempt to drill up to three feet deep, extract lunar soil — called regolith — and deposit it on the surface for water analysis.

The Mass Spectrometer observing lunar operations (MSolo) will measure volatile gases that readily escape from the material excavated by TRIDENT.

PRIME-1 will be the first demonstration of finding and extracting resources on the Moon. Advancing these types of technologies are critical to establishing a robust, long-term presence in deep space, including at the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis missions.

While PRIME-1 will investigate the resources below the lunar surface, Nokia will set out to test its space-hardened 4G/LTE network. A small rover developed by Lunar Outpost will venture more than a mile away from the Nova-C lander and test Nokia’s wireless network at various distances. The rover will communicate to a base station located on Nova-C, and the lander will communicate data back to Earth.

This demonstration could pave the way for a commercial 4G/LTE system for mission-critical communications on the lunar surface. This includes communications and even high-definition video streaming from astronauts to base stations, vehicles to base stations, and more, NASA said.

“These early technology demonstrations employ innovative partnerships to provide valuable information about operating on and exploring the lunar surface,” said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“The data will inform the designs for future in-situ resource utilisation, mobility, communication, power, and dust mitigation capabilities,” Werkheiser added.