November 5, 2021
NASA, Intuitive Machines announce landing site location for lunar drill
by Hillary Smith, NASA
Illustration of Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander with a depiction of NASA’s Polar Resources Ice-Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1) attached to the spacecraft on the surface of the moon. Credit: Intuitive Machines
In late 2022, NASA will send an ice-mining experiment attached to a robotic lander to the lunar South Pole on a ridge not far from Shackleton crater—a location engineers and scientists have assessed for months. NASA and Intuitive Machines, an agency partner for commercial moon deliveries, announced the location selection Nov. 3.
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.
These conditions offer the best chance of success for the three technology demonstrations aboard. This includes the NASA-funded Polar Resources Ice-Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1)—which 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.
"PRIME-1 is permanently attached to Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander, and finding a landing location where we might discover ice within three feet of the surface was challenging," said Dr. Jackie Quinn, PRIME-1 project manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "While there is plenty of sunlight to power the payloads, the surface gets too warm to sustain ice within reach of the PRIME-1 drill. We needed to find a 'goldilocks' site that gets just enough sunlight to meet mission requirements while also being a safe place to land with good Earth communications."