NASA presented a medium-sized lunar lander concept that could be used during missions in the next few years within the Artemis program. The aim is to bring human beings back to the Moon, but manned missions involve a series of scientific studies with the aim of creating a stable base. Various scientific instruments and rovers will be needed that can make explorations on the lunar surface, payloads that can be brought to the surface by a lander of a type compared to a pallet. A technical publication (link to PDF file) of the concept offers references for the industries that collaborate with NASA.
Less than two weeks ago, NASA announced the most recent private companies included in the CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program, which will are entitled to offer their services for sending cargoes of various types to the Moon as support for the Artemis program. Several companies included in that program started proposing projects in various phases of development of lunar landers and now NASA has also proposed a concept described as a space pallet capable of carrying payloads up to 300 kg on the Moon’s surface that can be rover and/or various tools. This concept is based on the idea that, just like the pallets used to move goods on Earth, the lander must be strong, simple and become a standard unit for future missions.
NASA’s technical publication also mentions the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), a Moon rover under development by NASA. Its purpose is to discover areas where there can be water using its NSS (Neutron Spectrometer System) instrument and the TRIDENT (The Regulatory and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain) drill developed by Honeybee Robotics. The samples can be analyzed by the MSolo (Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations) and NIRVSS (Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System) instruments.
According to the plans, the first VIPER should be sent to the Moon’s surface in December 2022. Instead, the lander is still just a concept that could be developed by other companies over the next decade so it doesn’t even have a name and it’s not clear when a vehicle designed following that concept might be ready.
These vehicles can be launched atop various rockets such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and ULA’s Atlas V. There’s still a lot to do but the biggest doubts concern manned missions while for the delivery of robotic vehicles and scientific instruments feasibility isn’t a problem.