Draper is heading back to the moon. From the first Apollo space flights, NASA has relied on Draper for critical engineering support for every lunar mission. As the agency resumes exploration of the moon under the Artemis Program, once again our engineers are there.
This time, “there” is the Schrödinger Basin, a large lunar impact crater near the moon’s south pole.
Under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Initiative, Draper is leading an industry team to develop an autonomous lander that can ferry equipment to the lunar surface. Our engineers are developing the lander’s flight computer and its guidance, navigation, and control systems, as well as providing payload operations.
As the prime contractor, we’re responsible for overall management and coordination of our private-sector partners:
- General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems will perform payload integration and testing.
- ispace technologies, U.S. serves as the design agent for the lander.
- Systima Technologies, a division of Karman Space & Defense, will lead manufacturing, assembly, integration, and testing of the lander.
As of 2022, the Draper lander had already received its first CLPS task order: NASA awarded Draper a contract to deliver three science payloads to Schrödinger Basin. Our team is on target for success, hitting two key milestones as of April 2023. Slated for 2025, this mission will mark the first-ever United States landing on the far side of the moon.
Meteor Impacts, Lava Flows, and Volcanic Vents
Scientists believe Schrödinger Basin holds important secrets about the moon’s geology and surface phenomena that could impact future human activity on the moon.
About 200 miles in diameter, the basin’s outer ring is made up of impact melt meteorites—rocks that were instantaneously melted on impact. And it’s one of just a few lunar locations that show signs of recent volcanic activity.
To uncover those secrets, Draper will ferry three high-value science payloads:
- The Far-side Seismic Suite (FSS) will be the first seismometer ever placed on the moon’s far side. Designed to survive several lunar nights (the equivalent of ~2 Earth weeks), FSS will assess seismic activity and determine how frequently the moon is
- The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment (LuSEE) will measure the moon’s fluctuating magnetic field, which to date have only been measured indirectly from orbit. LuSEE will also gather data on lunar dust and the moon’s electrostatic potential—two phenomena that could present problems for future colonists on the moon.
- The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) will drill deep below the lunar surface, gathering data on heat flow and electrical conductivity to better understand how the lunar crust, mantle, and core were formed. By contrasting measurements on the far side with those made during near-side Apollo missions, scientists may be able to unravel the origin of the moon’s frozen “seas” or maria—aka “the Man in the moon.”
“Understanding the internal structure of the moon and how that has evolved over time, really helps us support science objectives for the years to come.” explained Systems Engineer Audrey Walsh.
Surviving Extreme Conditions
To successfully navigate to and land in the basin, Draper’s lander will be equipped with LiDAR and other sensors. This sensor data will feed algorithms to generate a map of terrain features, enabling the lander to determine its location and to avoid hazards on the lunar surface.
Because the floor of lunar craters is permanently in shadow (and because the moon lacks an atmosphere to help warm its surface), temperatures in the basin are some of the lowest in our solar system—down to -414° F (-248° C).
Because there is no direct line of sight from the basin back to Earth, Draper will also deploy two satellites into lunar orbit to enable a communications relay for continuous data transmissions.
Paving the Way for Human Lunar Missions
As NASA pursues its goal of returning humans to the moon for the first time since 1972, Draper’s efforts under the CLPS Initiative are helping to pave the way. We know that the success of future Artemis missions hinge on these efforts, and our engineers are honored—and excited—to bear this responsibility.
Completion of the flight to Schrödinger Basin and the data gathered by FSS, LuSEE, and LITMS will enrich our scientific understanding and enable further explorations—to Mars and beyond.
“Draper couldn’t be more honored to be the first provider of this capability to the United States,” said CLPS Initiative Lead Alan Campbell.