A pair of CubeSats have been selected to explore the dark side of the moon, helping scientists understand what resides on that portion of the lunar surface. The selections were recently announced by the European Space Agency (ESA), which put a call out to European teams in 2017. The two chosen CubeSats are named the Lunar Meteoroid Impact Orbiter (Lumio) and the Lunar Volatile and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter (VMMO).
The CubeSats are roughly the size of an “airline cabin bag,” according to the ESA, which explains that selecting the final winners for its missions was “a difficult process.” That was due to the large number of high-quality concepts the ESA received, ESA’s Technology CubeSat Manager Roger Walker said.
Ultimately the VMMO and Lumio were chosen for this mission, each with a different purpose. The VMMO will be appointed solely to a specific and permanently dark crater near the moon’s south pole, where it will look for interesting volatiles and potential water ice deposits.
Lumio, meanwhile, will spend its time circling above the far side of the moon, specifically looking for bright impact flashes during night time. The CubeSat will map meteoroid bombardments, the ESA says.
At least some of these efforts could prove useful for future moon missions that involve human colonies, particularly any discoveries of water ice in the crater. The winning teams will work with ESA experts on developing the mission starting next month. When such spacecraft may actually be deployed to the moon isn’t clear, however.