Finding Water on the Moon

Before you leave for a big trip, you plan. You research the best things to see and — perhaps more importantly — what to avoid. Space exploration is no different. As we endeavor to return to the Moon and seek destinations like Mars and beyond, we must be prepared.

That’s where small but mighty robotic spacecraft like Lunar Trailblazer come into the picture. Aptly named, Lunar Trailblazer will help forge a path for humans to safely return to the Moon, thanks to its detailed study of lunar water — and it’s just been confirmed for production.

Little spacecraft, big science

Soon to be one of NASA’s newest compact science powerhouses, Lunar Trailblazer recently (November 2020) passed its Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) milestone, which allows our team to begin production of the spacecraft at our facility near Denver, Colorado. 

“Passing this key decision point means we have the green flag to proceed with production on the spacecraft. I’m very excited to see all the big science this compact spacecraft will surely bring back to us” 

Joshua Wood, Lunar Trailblazer program manager.

In recent years, evidence of water on the Moon has grown to include discoveries of ice at both lunar poles and hydration even in sunlit parts of the surface. A key question is whether these quantities are sufficient to fuel a new space economy on the lunar surface.

Lunar Trailblazer hopes to build on this knowledge and qualify more about the behavior of our Moon’s water. The mission aims to measure the form, abundance and distribution of water and hydroxide (a water molecule minus one part hydrogen) and make high-resolution maps of various regions of the lunar surface.

The mission’s findings could help us better identify future Moon landing sites for humans and discover new clues about the delivery of water and other materials to the Earth-Moon system over time. Our team will design, build and integrate the spacecraft for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech, who manages both JPL and is the home institution of the mission principal investigator.

Small Satellites

Snackable science clears path for larger missions

As we continue to move toward more cost-effective exploration missions, small satellites — and spacecraft — enter a new golden era.

This trend spurred NASA to announce a brand new class of missions focused on bite-sized science: Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx). These missions use small spacecraft to conduct unique exploration science. They get to space by hitching a ride on existing launches.

With our legacy of more than 150 small satellite missions, we’ve secured two of the three first round NASA SIMPLEx programs: Lunar Trailblazer and Janus. Janus, Lunar Trailblazer’s sister mission, will launch in 2022 to study binary asteroids. Lunar Trailblazer will be delivered in late spring 2023, with its ride-along to space currently baselined for late 2023.

As we prepare to send the first woman and next man to the Moon, little spacecraft like Lunar Trailblazer will clear the path for humankind to discover the universe’s greatest mysteries. 

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