NASA has tapped three companies to help develop new solar arrays to power Artemis missions to the moon by astronauts and robots.
The space agency this month awarded a total of $19.4 million to the companies Astrobotic Technology, Honeybee Robotics and Lockheed Martin to develop vertical solar arrays that can power equipment for Artemis program astronauts or robotic systems on the moon.
"These prototypes will provide promising solutions for reliable power sources on the moon, which are key to the success of almost anything we do on the surface," Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in an Aug. 23 statement. "This exciting effort plays a critical role that will quite literally help power our Artemis exploration in the uniquely challenging environment of the moon's South Pole."
NASA's Artemis program aims to return astronaut to the moon by 2025, build a Gateway space station around the moon and test lunar habitats, rovers and gear that astronauts could be used for trips to Mars. To do that, astronauts and their robotic helpers will need deployable solar arrays designed to extend upward to catch the sunlight in the dusty lunar environment.
"The vertical orientation and height of these new designs will help prevent loss of power at the lunar poles where the sun does not rise very far above the horizon," NASA wrote in the statement. "When the sun is low on the horizon, the moon's terrain can block some of its light, keeping it from reaching solar arrays that are low to the ground. By placing the solar arrays on tall masts, these designs allow for uninterrupted light and therefore produce more power."
Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado will receive $7 million of the NASA solar array funds in the new agreement. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Honeybee Robotics of Brooklyn, New York will each receive $6.2 million, NASA has said. All three companies were part of a group of five firms NASA picked in 2021 to begin developing lunar solar arrays.
The new funds are to be used to build and test prototypes of mast-mounted solar arrays so that one can be deployed at the moon's south pole "near the end of this decade," NASA wrote.
"The designs must remain stable on sloped terrain and be resistant to abrasive lunar dust, all while minimizing both mass and stowed volume to aid in the system’s delivery to the lunar surface," NASA wrote in a description.
The solar array contracts are part of NASA's Vertical Solar Array Technology project designed to support long-term surface operations on the moon.
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