The Moon has two ‘sides,’ one that perpetually faces the Earth and another that perpetually faces away from our planet. Many refer to this as the Moon’s far side, one that hasn’t gotten as much attention from scientists as the part we can directly observe. That has slowly changed, however, and now NASA plans to join the work.
NASA has announced plans to launch three new payloads to the Moon, two of which will land on the far side. This will be a first for NASA, which hasn’t previously launched payload suites to the side of the Moon facing away from Earth. The space agency says these payloads are designed to ‘advance understanding’ of the Moon; they’ll be launched under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).
NASA previously put out a call for proposals under its Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) initiative. These three payloads are the first selections made from this call for proposals. The two milestone payloads will be launched to the Schrödinger basin, the far side of the Moon’s biggest impact crater.
The two payloads destined for the far side of the Moon will be the Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) and the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS). The LITMS payload will include a pneumatic drill and a Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder, the two of which will look into the basin’s electrical conductivity and heat flow.
The FSS, meanwhile, packs two seismometers that will send NASA its first data on seismic activity that happens on the Moon’s dark side. Rounding out the payloads will be the Lunar Vertex, a lander and rover payload that’ll be dropped at the Moon’s Reiner Gamma lunar swirl. The rover will perform surface measurements and help shed light on the Moon’s magnetic field.
NASA aims to launch the payloads in 2024.