During its September 2018 meeting, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS) was instructed to prepare a concise report reviewing the commercial aspects of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) lunar science and exploration initiative. This CAPS short report addresses the following topics requested by SMD:
- Discuss how new commercial ventures could provide realistic opportunities to address meaningful lunar science and exploration objectives; and
- Suggest other activities that might be undertaken before the completion of the next planetary science decadal survey that could expand our lunar knowledge and capabilities and that are consistent with Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 (Vision and Voyages).1
As briefly discussed in a previous CAPS short report titled Review of the Planetary Science Aspects of NASA SMD’s Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative2 (hereafter referred to as Review of the Planetary Science Aspects), the program affords opportunities for cross-disciplinary science, particularly with heliophysics and astronomy. The current report focuses on opportunities for lunar planetary science. The reader is referred to the 2007 National Academies report The Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon (hereafter Scientific Context)3 as well as findings from the 2007 NASA Advisory Council Workshop on Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture4 for thorough discussions of cross-disciplinary opportunities for lunar science.
Vision and Voyages recommended that NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) consider two medium-class, New Frontiers lunar missions for selection between 2013 and 2022: South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return and Lunar Geophysical Network.5 Although these missions have not yet been selected for flight, the 2018 decadal midterm review Turning Visions into Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022: A Midterm Review6 noted key lunar scientific advances coming out of U.S. and
1 National Research Council (NRC), 2011, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.; commonly referred to as Vision and Voyages.
2 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Review of the Planetary Science Aspects of NASA SMD’s Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.; herein referred to as Review of the Planetary Science Aspects.
3 NRC, 2007, The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
4 NASA, 2008, NASA Advisory Council Workshop on Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture, NP-2008-08-542-HQ, Washington, D.C.
5Vision and Voyages, p. 127.
6 NASEM, 2018, Visions into Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022: A Midterm Review, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.; referred to as the “decadal midterm.”
international lunar missions, ongoing sample analysis, and other research.7 These advances, made since publication of Vision and Voyages, are summarized in Review of the Planetary Science Aspects.
The lunar science priorities identified in Vision and Voyages drew on the earlier Scientific Context report, which provided 8 prioritized lunar science concepts along with related goals and recommendations.8 Based upon recent advances in lunar science, these 8 science concepts were augmented by 3 additional concepts identified by the Lunar Exploration and Analysis Group Special Action Team Report on Advancing the Science of the Moon (ASM-SAT).9 All 11 lunar science priorities are listed here:
- The bombardment history of the inner Solar System is uniquely revealed on the Moon. The Apollo program provided limited spatial and temporal coverage of the Moon’s impact history. The flux of impactors through the early inner solar system is a key constraint on models of planetary accretion and early evolution of planetary bodies and life. Samples from the Moon paired with lunar surface crater densities are the linchpin for extrapolation of ages of processes on planetary surfaces across the entire inner Solar System. This goal can be addressed by sample return from impact melts from craters and basins. In situ age dating is a new technology that could be utilized as well.
- The structure and composition of the lunar interior provide fundamental information on the evolution of a differentiated planetary body. The differences in the nature of the crust and style of volcanism between the lunar near and far sides point to large-scale lateral variation in lunar evolution. Regional- and hemispheric-scale variations in composition can be assessed through remote sensing, surface measurements, and sample return. Modern seismometer technology would enable a future lunar geophysical network of even one or two stations to answer questions about the Moon’s interior, thermal history, and differentiation.10,11
- Key planetary processes are manifested in the diversity of lunar crustal rocks. Orbital data obtained in recent years have shown that the current sample collections (Apollo, Luna, and lunar meteorites) are not fully representative of the materials present on the surface of the Moon. In situ analysis and sample return would reveal new lithologies and details of their formation processes.
- The lunar poles are special environments that may bear witness to the volatile flux over the latter part of Solar System history. Recent data have shown water ice in polar, permanently shadowed regions. A key question is whether the surface volatile deposits are sourced from delivery by exogenous impactors, release of water from the lunar interior, or creation from the solar wind. Information on volatile composition, abundance, and distribution are also critical for exploration purposes, as they are needed to evaluate the resource potential that could support a prolonged human presence on the lunar surface.
7 Decadal midterm, p. 28.
8Scientific Context, p. 3.
9 See Lunar Exploration Analysis Group , 2018, Advancing Science of the Moon: Report of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Special Action Team, February, https://www.lpi.usra.edu/leag/reports/ASM-SAT-Report-final.pdf.
10 M.P. Panning, E. Beucler, M. Drilleau, A. Mocquet, P. Lognonne, and W.B. Banerdt, 2015, Verifying single-station seismic approaches using Earth-based data: Preparation for data return from the InSight mission to Mars, Icarus 248:230-242.
11 P. Lognonne and W.T. Pike, 2015. Chapter 3, Planetary Seismometry, pp. 36-48 in Extraterrestrial Seismology (V.C.H. Tong and R.A. Garcia, eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107300668.006.
- Lunar volcanism provides a window into the thermal and compositional evolution of the Moon. Precise isotopic measurements (e.g., tungsten, titanium, oxygen, neodymium, ruthenium, etc.) on returned samples from regions not sampled by Apollo are needed to assess isotopic heterogeneity, placing constraints on formation and subsequent evolution. Addressing this science priority will require targeting areas that contain rocks of diverse composition and age for sample return or in situ analyses.
- The Moon is an accessible laboratory for studying the impact process on planetary scales. By observing the formation of new craters, the continuation of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for over 9 years has allowed a better estimate of the current impact rate and regolith gardening. Impact bombardment of the Moon can also be monitored seismologically and structures determined by regional geology or seismology.
- The Moon is a natural laboratory for regolith processes and weathering on anhydrous airless bodies. The Moon remains the archetypal laboratory for studying regolith formation and evolution, as well as space weathering and the influence of solar wind and micrometeorite impacts on airless bodies. Regolith samples from areas of distinct composition would improve understanding of the major agents of space weathering.
- The atmosphere and dust environment of the Moon are accessible for scientific study. Remaining gaps in understanding the lunar atmosphere and dust include identifying sources of midlatitude surface hydroxyl and water, determining whether hydrogen products migrate poleward to the cold trap reservoirs, and the search for evidence of 40Ar release from seismic events and near-surface electrostatic dust lofting.
- The origin of the Moon. The leading hypothesis for the origin of the Moon is that it formed as the result of the impact of a large object with proto-Earth. Many details of the processes are as yet unclear, including the composition of the impactor in comparison to the proto-Earth. Recent work on Apollo samples suggests that the lunar mantle, although depleted of volatiles, contains volatiles including hydrogen, an observation that has the potential to inform giant-impact lunar formation models. These details can be further constrained by studies of lunar samples and the lunar interior structure.
- The lunar volatile cycle. Different lines of evidence point to the existence of a lunar volatile cycle. Key measurements are of the abundance, distribution, and phases of volatiles as well as if and how the size of the volatile reservoirs varies with time. Orbital measurements, in situ data, and samples all play a role in tracing these processes.
- Lunar tectonism and seismicity. High-resolution image coverage of the lunar surface has led to improved knowledge of tectonic landforms. Lobate scarps formed by thrust faults may still be active and may be the origin of the largest and rarest magnitude moonquake type: shallow moonquakes or high-frequency teleseismic events.
Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program
As described in Review of the Planetary Science Aspects, the fiscal year 2019 (FY2019) PSD budget request allocates approximately $200 million for the new Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. This program is intended to support partnerships with industry as well as new, innovative approaches to accomplishing lunar science research and human exploration goals. Under the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, research and technology developments in support of the new lunar
initiative are being implemented (Early Science & Technology Initiative; see Figure 1). The Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) has released its third Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) draft, with a potential focus on lunar research teams and in situ resource utilization (ISRU). Additional elements to the augmented lunar science research program include the Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis campaign (ANGSA), deployment of lunar CubeSats and small satellites (three are slated to be launched as secondary payloads on Exploration Mission-1 [EM-1] of NASA’s Space Launch System), and the solicitation of proposals for small lunar missions through the Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) Third Stand Alone Missions of Opportunity Notice (SALMON-3).
Further near-term lunar science and technology initiatives begun by SMD include the Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation (DALI) program. This program will support development of all lunar instrument types including lander/rover-based instruments and orbital instruments, although the emphasis will be placed on instruments intended for small, stationary landers. Instrument providers are encouraged to use the opportunity to propose instruments that support NASA’s broader lunar exploration goals, including science, human exploration, and ISRU—enabling technologies for the future that may include cryogenic sample return, sealed sample return, and extreme temperature survival to assist in lunar night and polar regions missions. NASA has now received 47 Step 2 proposals12 that include instrumentation for the following:
12 J.A.R. Rall, 2018, “SBAG Meeting: Planetary Science Division,” presentation to the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, June 13, https://www.lpi.usra.edu/sbag/meetings/jun2018/presentations/rall.pdf.
- Ultraviolet/visible/infrared/thermal spectrometers, mass spectrometers, Raman spectrometers, and neutron/gamma ray spectrometers;
- Dust/plasma/solar wind instruments;
- Seismic instruments and heat flow probe;
- Lunar laser ranging;
- Magnetometers and radar;
- Lidar, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, and X-ray powder diffraction/fluorescence; and
- Volatiles detection and radiation detection.
In addition to the DALI solicitation, NASA is preparing a SALMON-3 Program Element Appendix (PEA) Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for payloads that are ready, or nearly ready, to fly. These could include engineering models, student-built hardware, and modified off-the-shelf hardware, as well as the instruments developed for the recently cancelled Lunar Resource Prospector.
COMMERCIAL LUNAR PAYLOAD SERVICES
Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) is an element of the new Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program that allows SMD to contract with commercial companies for transportation and mission infrastructure services able to send small robotic landers to the Moon. Its purpose is to acquire end-to-end commercial payload services between the Earth and the lunar surface, but it also permits proposals to additional destinations (for example, lunar orbit or Lagrangian points) that may result from the contractor’s mission architecture. The contractor is asked to provide all activities necessary to safely integrate, accommodate, transport, and operate NASA payloads using contractor-provided assets, including launch vehicles, lunar lander spacecraft, lunar surface systems, Earth reentry vehicles, and associated resources. A formal request for proposals (RFP) from commercial lunar lander providers was released in September 2018;13 proposals were received in October 2018, and the first selections were announced in November 2018. Over 30 companies showed interest in responding to this RFP; 9 companies were selected in the first round of competition. The CLPS acquisition approach is to issue an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract with a number of contractors and then to issue task orders to selected contractors for each flight opportunity. These task orders are anticipated to be firm fixed price. First flights are anticipated in the 2020/2021 time frame.
This program represents a step in the agency’s expanding efforts to create a sustainable lunar exploration program combined with support for the development of a commercial space industry extending beyond low Earth orbit. As such, it is envisioned that future landers will be increasingly larger, more capable, mobile (rovers), and carry payloads with increasingly large demands on lander or rover resources. Ultimately, commercial lunar landers and rovers could comprise an important element of a future lunar exploration infrastructure, which may encompass such human-tended elements as NASA’s proposed lunar orbiting Gateway.
While the first opportunities for these companies are to deliver payloads for science and exploration, some have an eye toward potentially more profitable activities ranging from delivery of personal artifacts to tourism and mining.14 The CLPS program is designed to provide on-ramps for more providers to engage in competition at later dates should commercial capabilities increase to midsized landers and rovers.
14 Japan Airlines, 2017, “Japan Airlines and Lunar Exploration Company ispace Announce Partnership,” http://press.jal.co.jp/en/release/201712/004532.html.
By acting as a customer and by providing technical expertise and input, NASA is in a unique position to provide on-ramps to deep space activities for private companies that may contribute to their commercial success. Some of the landers under development could collect hundred-gram samples, which could then be transported to the proposed lunar Gateway; any complex activities such as robot deployment would benefit from proximal human-tended communications. By facilitating science mission partnership with the emerging market of these “lunar delivery services,” NASA will, hopefully, help create an international standard for future lunar exploration that can protect the scientific integrity and natural heritage of the Moon.
Examples of Capabilities of Commercial Providers and Their Readiness
CAPS heard presentations from Astrobotic Technology,15 Masten Space Systems,16 and Axiom Research Labs17 outlining their lunar lander development programs. These programs were initiated as potential contenders for the Google Lunar X-Prize and, as presented, illustrated varying levels of technical maturity. Table 1 summarizes projected payload hosting capabilities. The capabilities represent the range of those presented by the companies to the committee rather than the capabilities of a single company or those of other companies that have shown interest in responding to the RFP.
Given that lunar soft landings were repeatedly demonstrated 50 years ago (e.g., for the Surveyor, Apollo, and Luna missions), and again as recently as January 2019 (the Chinese Chang’e 4 mission), it is reasonable to conclude that soft landings on the Moon can be accomplished by commercial providers. Demonstration of such a landing, or even achieving lunar orbit, would nevertheless be a notable accomplishment. The recent commercial provider RFP stipulates that the offeror provide an intact lunar landed mission that delivers at least 10 kg of NASA payload to the lunar surface before December 31, 2021.18
Capabilities of Science Instruments and Their Readiness
A request for information (RFI) for science instruments was released in spring 2018 with responses due at the end of June 2018. The committee was not provided details of instruments, as this information is competition sensitive, but it did receive a high-level overview of NASA’s assessment. Several dozen responses were received, many of which were regarded as fairly mature and near-ready to fly. Some instruments are technology demonstrations whereas others are science-ready. These instruments were officially solicited in October 2018; the solicitation was amended in January 2019 with a revision to the proposal due date.19
15 A. Solorzano, Astrobotic Lead Systems Engineer, 2018, “Astrobotic Peregrine Lunar Lander: Technology-Driven Capabilities and Challenges,” presentation to the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, September 11.
16 M. Kuhns, 2018, “Masten Space Systems: Capability-Driven Lunar Services,” presentation to the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, September 11.
17 A. Kothandhapani, 2018, “Lunar Lander Capabilities: Axiom Labs—TeamIndus,” presentation to the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, September 12.
18 NASA, Office of Procurement, 2018, Commercial Lunar Payload Services Solicitation Number: 80HQTR18R0011R, Final CLPS_RFP_9.16.18, p. 86.
TABLE 1 Summary of Projected Near-Term Capabilities of Commercial Hosts for Lunar Payloads
|Mass||10-100 kg payloads|
|Volume/dimensions||Up to ~0.4 cubic meters per bay, up to 9 bays|
|Communication||2.8 kbps to 5 Mbps|
|Power||0.5-1.0 W per kg of payload|
|Duration on surface||8-14 days (≤1 lunar day) for first generation|
|Interaction with lunar surface||At discretion of proposer for sampling systems. Some commercial providers had specific means to release small rovers and a WiFi network to connect with deployables.|
|Mobility options||Mostly static. Some ability to release small rovers. Potential for “hopping” of the initial lander with some vendors.|
NOTE: The information in this table is an amalgamation of capabilities presented to the committee, and no single provider achieved all of the high-end capabilities.
Hosted Payloads—Lessons Learned from Other NASA Programs and Agencies
In addition to hearing from commercial lunar lander providers, the committee received presentations from the Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) project.20,21 These presentations emphasized lessons learned from the ESSP program efforts to host Earth science instruments on commercial satellites. ESSP has been trailblazing this approach with Earth Venture Instrument Projects.
The ESSP Program Office MAIA mission manager shared her experiences on different Earth Venture projects and the revisions to their acquisition approaches they made based on experiences with these projects. She offered the following lessons that could be applicable to the lunar commercial opportunities:
- Involve industry early and often to develop solid relationships and flow of information. Keep industry updated regularly (e.g., they released strategy highlights to industry right after procurement strategy meeting approval). Further, industry can help clarify requirements and expectations for the final RFP, resulting in fewer amendments and questions.
- Align the procurement schedule as much as practical to the mission schedule and when requirements will be mature enough to be used in a firm fixed price solicitation. Such an alignment of schedule helps to avoid substantial RFP amendments and proposal submission extensions, thereby reducing risk to both the agency and proposing companies.
- Define a common instrument interface definition as early as possible. NASA’s Earth Science Division (ESD) was able to identify a common set of Earth science instrument-to-spacecraft
20 B. Hilton, NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program Office, MAIA Mission Manager, 2018, “Commercial Hosting Lessons Learned from the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) Project,” presentation to the National Academies’ Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, September 11.
21 K.A. Burke, MAIA Project Manager, 2018, “Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA): Commercial Hosting Lesson Learned from the MAIA Earth Venture Instrument Project and Instrument Development without a Host,” presentation to the National Academies’ Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, September 11.
interface guidelines that improved the likelihood that these instruments could become secondary payloads on missions of opportunity. Doing so worked extremely well for the MAIA project.
The MAIA project manager then provided specific examples of how the selected acquisition approach affected development of their instrument and how they dealt with the uncertainties of an unknown spacecraft and ground system. He explained how complicated the interface between the instrument and the contractor’s flight and ground systems was going to be and described their significant efforts to minimize the potential for changes to either side of the interface after contracts have been awarded. He concluded by identifying critical areas that need to be considered when trying to match instruments to commercial entities and again reiterated the importance of interface specification as early as practicable.
The lessons learned from the ESSP hosted payloads program align with those recently reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of commercially hosted payloads.22 Relevant to NASA’s application of hosted payloads, the GAO cited cost savings, faster on-orbit capability, and continued technology upgrades and industrial base stability as benefits to commercially hosted payloads.23 The GAO found that the DOD’s use of hosted payloads, however, has been limited by the following dominant factors:24
- Logistical difficulty in matching the payload to the host. Payload size, weight, power, and spectrum requirements complicate finding a host capable of accommodating the payload without increasing project cost or development time. Furthermore, it is challenging to align the government instrument development timeline with the service acquisition timeline; in a best-case scenario, the government adopts and adheres to the commercial host’s timeline.
- Limited access to information or fragmented information. Commercially hosting government payloads is a relatively nascent model with limited, localized (fragmented) information and little substantiated cost-benefit analysis. Lessons learned are not collected by a central office that can then disseminate the knowledge, which can lead to agency-wide resistance to adopting hosted payloads.
In conclusion, the GAO determined that commercially hosted payloads have great potential and that “centralized collection and assessment of agency-wide data would help enable DOD to mitigate the logistical challenges inherent in matching payloads to hosts, and better position DOD to make reasoned, evidence-based decisions on whether a hosted payload would be a viable solution.”25
Assessment of Readiness to Integrate Science Instruments with Commercial Landers
As noted above in the CLPS RFP, the contractor is being asked to provide all activities necessary to safely integrate, accommodate, transport, and operate NASA payloads using contractor-provided assets, including launch vehicles, lunar lander spacecraft, lunar surface systems, Earth reentry vehicles, and associated resources. During presentations to the committee and in reviewing the RFP, the committee learned that the CLPS RFP has not defined potential interfaces with science instrumentation or any potential instrument concepts or operations needs. The lack of interface guidelines or definitions suggests that the RFP assumes that the selected contractors will be able to handle the science instrument interface
22 Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2018, Military Space Systems: DOD’s Use of Commercial Satellites to Host Defense Payloads Would Benefit from Centralizing Data, GAO-18-493, July, Washington, D.C.
23 GAO-18-493, pp. 4-5.
24 GAO-18-493, p. 14.
25 GAO-18-493, p. 23.
requirements. The committee also heard that the instrument solicitation will not define the detailed capabilities of the landers, only that the landers will provide the interface and must accommodate a 10 kg payload.
As highlighted by the GAO report and by the ESSP Program Office and MAIA project, early identification of instrument requirements (size, weight, and power) or defining a common interface between commercial providers and potential instruments was important in ensuring that their selected instruments and commercial providers would be able to find a match between commercial host and payload. The ESSP MAIA project manager described how important the interface match between instrument and the contractor’s flight and ground system must be in order for the instrument to achieve its science objectives. If these interface requirements could not be met, then the instrument could not achieve the science objectives without a major redesign and associated cost and schedule increase or the science objectives would require reevaluation to accommodate the instrument’s potentially reduced performance.
It is not clear to the committee that this step has been sufficiently accomplished by the SMD Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program at this point in time.
Finding. Given undefined interfaces and poorly defined lander capabilities and instrument operational requirements, it is not clear that a match between CLPS commercial host and instrument can be ensured. Such a situation may hinder NASA issuing its first task order for a commercial flight opportunity with a NASA-selected science payload by the end of the calendar year 2018, as planned at the writing of this report, or it may result in schedule delays for initial payloads.
Conclusion. CAPS concludes that an instrument interface document common across providers or a requirement that each commercial provider must supply an instrument interface document describing the provider’s capabilities in instrument hosting, interfaces, and means of resolving questions would remove a large ambiguity in the plans to fly NASA-selected science instruments on commercial landers.
SCIENCE FROM LUNAR LANDERS
Several measurements are possible with the commercial lunar landers described to the committee. These measurements map to the science objectives of the community-consensus lunar science concepts presented at the beginning of this short report. Commercial landers might lead to an economy of scale that could allow efficient exploration of diverse, scientifically significant areas, although such an economy of scale remains to be seen. Furthermore, the initial commercial landers could provide reconnaissance services for later, higher-capability landers with science, commercial, or human exploration missions. Some scientific questions do appear resolvable with the first-generation lunar landers. Others‒‒those relating to the geologic diversity of the Moon, long-term monitoring, or science undertaken in special areas such as rough terrains or permanently shadowed regions‒‒likely require greater capabilities than those envisioned by the first generation of commercial lunar landers.
Measurements Possible with Short-Term Static Landers
The nearest term lunar landers will have a range of capabilities represented by those listed in Table 1. These capabilities provide for stationary landers with lifetimes less than or equal to a lunar day (<14 Earth days). Examples of several scientifically valuable measurements that could be acquired by instrumentation on such landers are listed below, along with key considerations that require further analyses to match scientific requirements with commercial landing system capabilities:
- Lunar retroreflectors. These require only placement and then subsequent monitoring. Their emplacement across the lunar surface would provide practical services such as enhancing determination of lander position and therefore positioning of scientific instruments, providing fixed location references on the lunar surface, and providing landmarks for landing future spacecraft. Furthermore, additional lunar retroreflectors (beyond those emplaced during the Apollo mission) could be used to assist in determining the Love number, which constrains properties of the deep interior and addresses lunar science priority 2 (see list of community consensus priorities above), and in cross-disciplinary science studies, such as in precision tests of gravitation and general relativity.
- Short-term monitoring of solar wind, radiation, dust, and the lunar atmosphere. Monitoring over the course of the lunar day is possible with static landers. Key measurements include those that would measure the flux, charge, velocity, and mass of lofted dust particles as well as plasma and solar wind particle experiments. Such measurements respond to lunar science priority 8 and could inform longer-term studies of these topics when long-lived landers become available.
- Chemistry, mineralogy, and volatiles of specific lunar sites. These characteristics could be significantly refined relative to orbital data and knowledge from the Apollo sample collection, which was acquired from a restricted set of locations on the lunar near side. Various in situ and landed remote sensing techniques with ready-for-flight instruments include X-ray, gamma ray, neutron, ultraviolet, infrared, laser Raman, and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopies (LIBS). Bulk chemistries, including minor and trace elements, and bulk mineralogies could be determined. If there is sufficient sensitivity, OH/H2O could be measured and monitored for change. Two key technical considerations are (1) the accessibility of terrains of interest given commercial landing system capabilities and their ability to target key locations identified from orbit with sufficient spatial precision (e.g., potassium, rare-earth elements and phosphorous, young basalts, spinel-rich terrains, lunar swirls); and (2) whether the instrument requires placement at a specific distance relative to the surface (possibly easy to accommodate) or incorporation of its sample handling system (possibly more complex, as the three commercial providers asked had not investigated lander stability with an arm deployed). The measurements that could be made respond to lunar science priorities 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10.
- Lunar interior measurements. Seismology is a key geophysical approach to understanding lunar structure and evolution. Seismic methods have advanced in the past decade, and it is no longer necessary to have a long-lived network of stations in order to achieve significant scientific results. Although longer-term monitoring is required for understanding the frequency of moonquakes and impacts, seismology from a fixed lander is possible if there is an active seismic source. Such measurements could address the heterogeneity of the Moon if acquired at multiple sites. Data from a seismic experiment that included seismometers or vibration-sensitive equipment on commercial landers could respond to lunar science priorities 2, 9, and 11. Magnetometers could additionally support the investigation of lunar science priority 2.
- Electromagnetic induction. Magnetic field measurements on the ground in conjunction with those from orbit can be used to determine the electrical conductivity of the interior and improve characterization of the small iron core. Since the Moon is compositionally heterogeneous, it may be possible to use measurements made at different locations to establish the extent of this heterogeneity, which may be large if water content is highly variable, in mantle conductivity. Investigation of the magnetic field would address lunar science priorities 2, 9, and 11.
Another set of science measurements may be possible with short-lived stationary landers if the lander providers or the payload providers devise ways for the payload system to interact with lunar materials. This set of measurements includes some types of measurements to study the chemistry, mineralogy, and volatiles of specific lunar sites (as above) as well as the following:
- In situ age dating. Instruments that address key science objectives, such as in situ geochronology (e.g., Rb-Sr and K-Ar), are also in development26,27,28 and have matured such that in situ age dates are possible to accuracies of tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years. Such age constraints are suitable to answer some scientific questions. Key considerations are (1) how samples of regolith or rock adjacent to the lander are delivered to the processing system of the instrument and (2) the payload mass capabilities of the commercial provider given that such science instrument and sample handling systems together are on the upper end of the payload mass capabilities reported in Table 1. The measurements that could be made respond to lunar science priorities 1, 3, 5, 6, and 9.
- Heat flow measurements. Apollo heat flow measurements showed spatial variability in heat flow; determining the extent to which this variability is related to lunar structure versus measurement considerations requires additional data. Accurate measurement of heat flow requires drilling at least a few tens of cm—that is, below the depth of the day-night thermal cycle. There is no inherent reason such a measurement could not be made by a short-term, static lander. A key consideration is platform stability during a drilling operation. The measurements that could be made respond to lunar science priority 2.
Finding. There are multiple scientifically valuable measurements that could be made from the planned first generation of commercial lunar landers that are static and live only through the sunlit portion of the lunar day (short-lived). These measurements would assist in making progress on key lunar science objectives.
Finding. Capabilities to interact with the lunar surface appear to fit within the mass and volume budgets of these systems; if also supported by platform stability, these capabilities would provide further valuable science opportunities.
Finding. Some unresolved technical issues that are important to making scientific measurements include which geologic units are accessible given planned landing system capabilities; the ability of commercial providers to provide necessary instrument interfaces required for science, including placement at a standoff distance; and the stability of commercial platforms during any interactions with the lunar surface.
26 B. Cohen, 2016, The Potassium-Argon Laser Experiment (KArLE): In situ geochronology for planetary robotic missions, pp. 1-10 in IEEE Aerospace Conference, doi: 10.1109/AERO.2016.7500945.
27 K.A. Farley, J.A. Hurowitz, P.D. Asimow, N.S. Jacobson, and J.A. Cartwright, 2013, A double-spike method for K-Ar measurement: A technique for high precision in situ dating on Mars and other planetary surfaces, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 110:1-12.
28 F.S. Anderson, J. Levine, and T.J. Whitaker, 2015, Dating the martian meteorite Zagami by the 87Rb-87Sr isochron method with a prototype in situ resonance ionization mass spectrometer, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 29(2):191-204.
Measurements Possible with Short-Term Mobile Platforms
Some of the proposed near-term lunar landers may allow the ability to deploy a rover or to move the whole platform to another location as many as tens of meters away. Such mobility enables a different set of geologic investigations involving traversing spatially heterogeneous areas of the lunar surface or moving from a safe landing site to a high-priority area.
- Lava tube investigation. Since their identification, lava tubes have garnered interest as a means to access the interiors of lava flows and as potential habitats for lunar explorers. A deployable asset (rover or hopper) with the ability to enter and image the inside of the tube or to deploy instruments within the tube could access these sites. This investigation responds to lunar science priority 5 as well as human exploration objectives.
- Lunar swirls. The high-low albedo contrasts of regolith within the lunar swirls is almost certainly related to magnetic anomalies occurring on small spatial scales. Traversing a swirl with a rover equipped with a camera and magnetometer would reveal the fine-resolution structure. Investigating lunar swirls could respond to lunar science priorities 7 and 8.
- Investigation of geologic processes (impact cratering, lava emplacement). Any site with discrete landforms, outcrops, or contacts between geologic units of different ages might benefit from investigations of spatial relationships at meters to grain scale for geologic structures and petrologic studies, responding to lunar science priorities 1, 3, 5, 6, and 11.
Key technical considerations for each of these three science investigations include (1) the precision with which the system can land near features of geological interest, the traverse speed, and the range of the rover; and (2) the ability of the rover (mass, power, communications) to accommodate a suitable science payload.
Finding. The planned first generation of commercial lunar landers that are static and short-lived could deploy mobile platforms; however, it is not yet apparent that the mobile platforms would have sufficient capabilities such as payload resources and support or traverse speed to achieve science objectives that involve mobility. Movement of the lander to another location by “hopping” could also provide mobility that may be mapped to science objectives.
Measurements Enabled by Longer-Term Lander Survival of the Lunar Night
In addition to those measurements able to be carried out by short-term lunar landers, several lander-based investigations are greatly enhanced by longer duration—in particular, the ability to last longer than the ~14 Earth-day lunar day.
- Long-term monitoring of lunar seismic activity (moonquakes and impacts). Short-duration landers could accomplish interior studies given an active seismic source. A longer-term mission that can survive the lunar night has the ability to monitor the natural rate of moonquakes and impact events. The former may be used to probe the interior structure of the Moon and, with sufficient coverage, create a three-dimensional (3D) map of the lunar interior. Thus, the Lunar Geophysical Network mission envisioned by Vision and Voyages could, in theory, be executed by small commercial landers. A key technical consideration is whether the seismometer could remain on the lander or whether it must be placed on and coupled with the lunar surface. The measurements that could be made respond to lunar science priorities 2, 6, and 11.
- Long-term monitoring of solar wind/radiation/dust environment. The ability to monitor the behavior of lunar and exospheric particles at night and during the dusk and dawn transitions would expand on the short-term monitoring ability outlined above. Additionally, a long-term mission would have greatly expanded opportunities for monitoring transient radiation effects of large solar flares on the lunar environment and changes in the solar wind. Such missions would address lunar priority 7.
- Geodetic measurements (tidal deformation). A heterogeneous Moon will respond to the time-varying tidal potential with a surface deformation that is spatially more complicated than would result from homogeneity. As a result, geodetic measurements of surface deformation contain information about the nonuniform mantle viscosity and elastic lithosphere that can further improve knowledge of the lunar interior. These measurements would address lunar priority 2.
Measurements Requiring More Advanced Lander Capabilities
A few valuable types of measurements appear to be outside the scope of currently planned commercial lander system capabilities. For example, in situ sampling of volatiles in permanently shadowed regions appears to be outside the power or mobility capabilities of commercial lander-rover systems, although simple remote sensing observation of volatiles in a shadowed region from an adjacent lander is feasible. Enabling technologies for a commercial mission to a permanently shadowed region may be similar to those required to survive a lunar night, although further work is needed to understand how to enable missions that satisfy lunar science priority 4 and exploration objectives to find lunar volatile deposits (e.g., water ice) by sample collection or in situ measurement. As another example, return of samples to Earth for the types of chemical and isotopic investigations required to answer questions about lunar origin is not in the near-term plans of any commercial provider, although several providers include this in their long-term objectives, possibly paired with sample delivery to a lunar Gateway.
Finding. Mobility, the ability to survive the lunar night, the ability to land in more “risky” terrains, and the ability to collect samples for return are key technologies that might be developed after the planned first generation of commercial lunar landers. Nascent plans for all of these objectives were presented by the commercial providers to CAPS, although further technical development efforts are needed to enable missions with expanded capabilities.
Conclusion. CAPS concludes that commercial provision of short-term (<14 day), static landers could enable scientifically valuable investigations at the Moon (summarized in Table 2). Moreover, such first-generation commercial lunar missions would provide a technological and engineering proof-of-concept that could potentially be evolved to greater capability, such as short-term mobile platforms and longer-term (night surviving) lunar landers.
TABLE 2 Summary of Scientific Instruments and Measurements That Would Enable Priority Lunar Science to Be Accomplished from Commercial Hosts on the Lunar Surface
|Science Instrument/Measurement||Lunar Science Priority|
|Short-term static landers||Lunar retroreflectors||2|
|Solar wind, radiation, dust, and the lunar atmosphere monitoring (short-term)||8|
|Chemistry, mineralogy, and volatiles (single-site)||2, 3, 4, 5, 10|
|Lunar interior measurements||2, 9, 11|
|Electromagnetic induction||2, 9, 11|
|In situ age dating||1, 3, 5, 6, 9|
|Heat flow measurements||2|
|Short-term mobile platforms||Lava tube investigation||5|
|Lunar swirls||7, 8|
|Geologic processes||1, 3, 5, 6, 11|
|Longer-term landers (lunar night survival)||Seismic activity monitoring (long-term)||2, 6, 11|
|Solar wind, radiation, and dust environment monitoring (long-term)||7|
On-Orbit Commercial Capabilities
NASA has selected CubeSats to fly on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) of the Space Launch System (SLS), and two of three companies that spoke to CAPS also highlighted the ability to provide on-orbit services. The plethora of orbiters over the last decade of lunar exploration has achieved many key scientific objectives from orbit, demonstrating the value added by a continued orbital presence in cislunar space. There remain some measurements that are best attainable from lunar orbit that have not been achieved, including mid-infrared/far-infrared spectroscopy for mineralogic composition, high spatial resolution global compositional basemaps at all wavelengths (including ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared, short-wave infrared, mid-infrared, and far-infrared), temporal monitoring of lunar volatiles, measurements of magnetic field heterogeneity of select regions from regions at high spatial resolutions and from low altitudes,29 and possible innovative laser-based interrogations for volatiles or seismology. A program of measurements on platforms spanning small satellites to large satellites could be envisioned to fulfill orbit-based science priorities at the Moon.
Capabilities of commercial cislunar satellites have the opportunity to enable science. For example, a lunar global positioning system network in orbit could allow precision navigation by commercial lunar science platforms using technologies similar to those used on Earth. Provision of an orbit-based communications network or a communications orbiter would increase data return from landers without requiring high power systems on landers. This capability is essential for exploration from the lunar far side. Lunar orbiters might also provide imaging and telemetry of mission-critical events like
29 D. Hemmingway and I. Garrick-Bethell, 2012, Magnetic field direction and lunar swirl morphology: Insights from Airy and Reiner Gamma, Journal of Geophysical Research 117:E10012.
descent and landing of surface missions. A lesson may be learned from the Mars program, which has relied upon orbiters to enhance the science return from landed missions. The Mars programs’ ability to integrate orbital assets and landed assets was enabled by a program-wide systems engineering approach that ensured that capabilities necessary from individual missions were incorporated into each mission—for example, ultra high frequency telecommunication between landers and orbiters for transmission of science data back to Earth. When attempting such a systems-wide approach integrating science with commercial services, the recent experience of the Earth Ventures team or that relayed by the GAO report on the DOD is relevant in that clearly defined and documented capabilities, requirements, and interfaces would enable greater use of standardized commercial lunar orbital platforms.
Finding. Novel, key science investigations remain to be carried out from lunar orbit. Commercial satellites—including small satellite commercial technology—could provide platforms for key science measurements as well as key infrastructure to support science from lunar landers.
Finding. A systems engineering approach ensures compatibility between the landed and orbital assets regardless of whether or not they are commercial or government-provided capabilities.
Use of the Gateway by Commercial Providers
NASA’s plans for the next decade include the launch, assembly, and operations of a human-tended space station in high lunar orbit, beginning with precursor activities in 2022. As currently envisioned Gateway would include two habitation modules (one from the United States, one contributed internationally) and support crewed and uncrewed missions by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD). While not required for any of the possible lunar science activities discussed here, once in place, Gateway would provide significant support for lunar science, allowing staging of operations and human-tending of robotic payloads on the surface. Most relevant for this short report, some of the commercial companies are pursuing reusable lander capabilities that would be able to make return trips from the lunar surface to Gateway to enable targeted sample collection from diverse areas. At present, however, the timeline is uncertain. The capabilities of Gateway and its uses for science are still evolving, and further details about capabilities and possible links to scientific exploration will be needed to assess its potential contribution to lunar science and exploration goals.
Activities in Advance of Decadal Survey
Industry has demonstrated interest in and potential capability to provide both landed and orbital commercial services that might be able to accommodate NASA science instrumentation valuable to lunar science. This short report has identified quality lunar science that can potentially be accommodated through such commercial services. NASA is in the process of soliciting both commercial services and science instrumentation that could be integrated to achieve this science. There are, however, many unknowns that have the potential to affect the viability of this commercially driven approach to science. Many of these unknowns are identified in the findings above.
The first steps that NASA has taken with the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program—to establish a new generation of lunar lander capabilities and interfaces—allow a preliminary assessment of the science potential of these new public-private partnerships. These steps, if implemented with a systems engineering approach that considers long-term capabilities and establishes reasonable interface definition to ensure the accommodation of quality science instruments, will begin to clarify the economic feasibility of the commercially driven approach. CAPS was told that NASA expects the cost of accommodating science payloads on commercial hosts will be approximately $1 million/kg. It is not yet clear that this
target price is viable. The current path, however, is a good test that can help both industry and NASA determine how best to move forward.
One of CAPS’s concerns is long-term program viability as it affects science return on investment—one of the key decision criteria in Vision and Voyages. If the cost of flying science instruments on commercial lunar spacecraft exceeds the current estimate, the science return may not be as attractive. A number of factors now and will in the future drive how well commercial industry can provide services at a reasonable cost. The next decadal survey could greatly benefit from understanding these factors as its members evaluate how to approach the next decade of planetary science. These factors, in the form of questions, are
- Are all the requirements for key science questions achievable with commercial systems? That is, what might be achievable at certain price points and what is worth achieving?
- What are the fundamental instrument-to-spacecraft interfaces required for lunar science instrumentation, and can industry provide these at acceptable cost?
- Which lunar infrastructure needs (e.g., orbital telecommunication services for downlinking science data) could enable a higher return on science investment when considered from a programmatic perspective?
- What are the key enabling commercial technologies needed for future lunar science exploration? Are these commercial technologies consistent with industry’s basic business plan? If not, how would these capabilities be funded?
- Does industry need a certain flight cadence to support its business plan?
There may be many more factors that can be evaluated prior to and during the next decadal survey. Industry and NASA can help each other by developing a mutual understanding of what industry and the science community need to make this partnership work effectively. The presentation by the ESSP Office gave one example of how the partnership could be carried out more effectively. As always, there will continue to be some budget uncertainty with continuing resolutions and appropriations. A stable program foundation with a strong systems engineering approach can help ensure sustainability.
CAPS notes that in its previous consensus study report, Getting Ready for the Next Planetary Science Decadal Survey,30 it was recommended that among various priority medium- and large-class planetary missions that might be studied in advance were those focused on lunar interior processes and polar volatiles. Such studies might also consider the utility of one or more commercially hosted payloads to accomplish these and similar scientific goals.
Conclusion. CAPS concludes that demonstration of short-term (one lunar day) commercial lunar landers carrying scientific payloads would allow realistic cost estimates or envelopes for instrumentation, sample handling, surface interactions, mobility, and survivability to be determined for such missions as well as for more advanced lunar-based investigations. The earlier such information is available to the upcoming planetary science decadal survey, the more useful it will be in planning for the next decade of lunar science and exploration. Similarly, mission studies in advance of the decadal survey could assess the utility and feasibility that decadal-priority lunar science could be accomplished through commercial-provided lunar landers.
30 NASEM, 2017, Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science: Getting Ready for the Next Planetary Science Decadal Survey, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.