Houston-based Intuitive Machines will deliver an ice mining experiment to the moon’s south pole by December 2022, a precursor to NASA’s water-hunting rover that’s set to land on the moon in late 2023.
The Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment (PRIME-1) will drill into the moon, harvest ice and then bring it to the surface. A mass spectrometer will be used to measure how much is lost as the ice turns from solid into vapor in a vacuum.
The data from this PRIME-1 mission will help scientists understand how NASA’s rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), can search for water at the moon’s pole, according to the Intuitive Machines news release. It will also test early versions of the drill and mass spectrometer used by VIPER. The 1,000-pound rover will use another commercial company, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Astrobotic Technology and its Griffin lunar lander, to reach the moon, where it will spend 100 Earth days gathering samples to create water resource maps.
More on VIPER: NASA developing new lunar rover to the moon to drill for water ice
The PRIME-1 mission could also help researchers determine how much water may be available on the moon to support a sustained human presence. Its drill and mass spectrometer weigh 88 pounds, and Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Lunar Lander is capable of carrying 220 pounds to the moon.
PRIME-1 will be the company’s second trip to the moon. Its first mission is set to launch for the the Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the moon, in the fourth quarter of 2021. On this first mission, Nova-C will carry commercial cargo, 11-pound race cars and five NASA payloads, including cameras to observe the dust kicked up by Nova-C’s engines (measuring this could help determine if the dust would damage a human landing system) and an experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation.
“Laying the foundation to return humans to the moon is an incredible honor and even greater challenge,” Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, said in a news release. “At Intuitive Machines, we’re hungry for the pursuit of these audacious missions. Winning our second opportunity to land on the moon and help NASA accomplish its Artemis mission is incredibly humbling.”
And on Wednesday, it was announced that Intuitive Machines will receive $41.6 million from NASA to develop a robot that can hop into craters and photograph hard-to-reach crevices that might be worthy of exploration.