NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer: The Hunt for Lunar Water

Lunar Trailblazer will help forge a path for humans to safely return to the Moon, thanks to its detailed study of lunar water.


Building block of future lunar economy

Mapping critical lunar water deposits

Novel and scalable spacecraft architecture

Small, but fit for a complex mission

Blazing a Trail: Latest Updates on Lunar Trailblazer

Lunar Trailblazer began the Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase of the program on Oct. 27, 2022 and is progressing toward a launch date in 2024. Recently, the Lockheed Martin team installed the spacecraft’s first instrument: NASA JPL’s High-resolution Volatiles and Minerals Moon Mapper (HVM3) – a spectrometer that measures infrared light that is absorbed by water. See more photos of the instrument and build-up here.

ATLO environmental testing began in February 2023, and the spacecraft will deliver in late-spring 2023. It will then be stored at Lockheed until fall of 2023 when it is shipped to the launch site in Florida.



Looking for Water on the Moon

Lunar Trailblazer will measure the form, abundance and distribution of water and hydroxyl (a water molecule minus one part hydrogen) on – and make high-resolution maps of various regions of – the lunar surface. This mapping of water on the Moon could help NASA better identify future Moon landing sites for humans (on missions like the upcoming Artemis III) and discover new clues about the delivery of water and other materials to the Earth-Moon system over time.

The Lunar Trailblazer spacecraft bus began development at Lockheed Martin in 2020 and is set for a rideshare launch with IM-2 in late-2023. Lockheed Martin designed and is building and integrating Lunar Trailblazer under contract with Caltech. Lunar Trailblazer is led by Caltech principal investigator, Bethany Ehlmann, and the project is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Small But Fit for a Complex Mission

Lunar Trailblazer is part of NASA’s Small, Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) mission class. SIMPLEx missions are those that use small spacecraft for exploration. Lunar Trailblazer is approximately 450 pounds. They go to space by hitching a ride on existing launches.

Lunar Trailblazer utilizes Lockheed Martin’s new Curio platform – a novel and scalable deep space SmallSat spacecraft architecture that allows the deep space exploration community to investigate scientific questions at less cost. The foundational architecture is also customizable to be able to meet a specific mission’s needs.

The spacecraft also builds on Lockheed Martin’s strong heritage in deep space exploration missions. Lunar Trailblazer’s guidance, navigation and propulsion systems are modeled after NASA’s successful GRAIL mission to the Moon. GRAIL’s two spacecraft – designed and built by Lockheed Martin – used a hydrazine propulsion system that allowed them to achieve the needed thrust at the needed mass. 


The Future Lunar Economy

For humans to go back to the Moon and stay there, we need resources and a system to access them: a full-scale lunar economy. The water Lunar Trailblazer will map on the Moon’s surface may become a critical building block of this specialized space economy. In an ideal future state, humans will be able to both drink the Moon’s water and use its hydrogen and oxygen atoms for fuel. 


In addition to Lunar Trailblazer, Lockheed Martin has many other projects that are paving the way for a future lunar economy in a variety of ways. One is a concept for a future lunar communication system called Parsec

Lunar Trailblazer in the News

Lunar Trailblazer Spacecraft

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Lauren Duda