The competition became known in April: the participants were asked to come up with the design of a miniature instrument for exploring the moon. Winners’ developments can be used in 2024 when sending astronauts to the moon.
Modern instruments for studying the lunar surface are bulky, heavy, and require large energy costs. But for future exploration of the Earth’s satellite, small mobile platforms, and moon rovers will also be required, which will make the mission more flexible and will quickly collect information about the resources and environment of the moon.
To get new ideas, NASA announced the contest, “Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload”. Participants were invited to create tools that would help astronauts and engineers on Earth during future missions. It is important that the development is small – 10 * 10 * 5 centimeters (about the size of a bar of soap) – and weigh no more than 400 grams.
“Smaller, more mobile platforms are changing the way you play”, said Sabah Bucks, a JPL technologist. “They will allow us to develop technology in order to engage more in intelligence and science”.
The competition took place in two directions: “Lunar environment” and “Lunar resource potential”. In the first category, it was proposed to create a device for studying the activity of the sun and the level of radiation on the moon. The winner was Sun Slicer: it developed an X-ray spectrometer with an integrated camera. He will conduct studies of the heliosphere, measuring solar activity, and monitor the level of radiation on the moon.
In the “Lunar Resource Potential” category, there were developers of devices for studying the lunar surface, which will find resources that are also useful on Earth — minerals and gases — and those needed by astronauts, such as water. The first here was Puli Space Technologies, which created a detector for searching and mapping hydrogen – and, therefore, all hydrogen-containing volatile substances.
“The ideas from the participants were outstanding”, said Bucks. “These projects could help NASA maintain a human presence on the moon”. The winners received 30 thousand dollars, and in total prizes were distributed in the amount of 160 thousand. It is expected that after there will be new contests for prototyping, testing, and implementation of the winning developments.
NASA is going to use the ideas received for the mission “Artemis”, which is scheduled for 2024. As part of it, they want to send the first two researchers and tools for creating lunar research platforms to the satellite to ensure the constant presence of people on the moon by 2028. The agency will use all the developments for future Martian missions.