NASA moon program aims for a daring commercial landing on the far side in 2025

An illustration of Draper’s SERIES-2 lunar lander, which will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA in 2025.
An illustration of Draper’s SERIES-2 lunar lander, scheduled to send science and technology payloads to the moon for NASA in 2025. (Image credit: Draper)

Like Pink Floyd, a new NASA-funded commercial mission will see us on the 'dark' side of the moon.

The agency announced (opens in new tab) Thursday (July 21) it will task a team led by Draper to carry a suite of science and technology payloads to Schrödinger Crater (opens in new tab), an impact basin on the moon's far side. Touchdown of the Draper SERIES-2 lander is scheduled for 2025.

The $73 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, if successfully executed, will represent the first time NASA science has touched down on the far side of the moon. (This is the eighth CLPS contract announced so far and also, the first CLPS mission to target the far side.)

Related: Every mission to the moon

Only one country has successfully completed a mission on the moon's far side, and relatively recently: China's Chang'e 4 lander carrying the Yutu 2 rover arrived in Von Kármán Crater on Jan. 2, 2019. Complexities in landing on the far side of the moon arise because this side is out of direct radio communication with Earth, which means that all information must be beamed to our planet through satellite relay.

NASA said the uncrewed far-side mission will gather science in a region very different from the crewed Artemis lunar missions, allowing for valuable context. (Astronauts will instead work in the south pole region on the near side of the moon.)

“Understanding geophysical activity on the far side of the moon will give us a deeper understanding of our solar system, and provide information to help us prepare for Artemis astronaut missions to the lunar surface," Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA's science mission directorate in Washington, said in the agency statement.

CLPS is an agency program that aims to study the moon's history and environment using privately developed landers and rovers that carry experiments and equipment to and on the lunar surface. 

Draper's lander design is based on work by a U.S. subsidiary of Tokyo-based ispace, which unveiled the Series 2 robotic moon lander in 2021. To stay in touch with Earth, Draper's statement (opens in new tab) said the company plans to contract Blue Canyon Technologies for two satellites that will be deployed just before landing.

Advanced Space, the operator of the lunar CAPSTONE mission currently making its way to the moon, will "support the team in the mission planning and operations of the satellites," the statement added. 

The lunar science payloads Draper will ferry, selected in 2019 and 2021, include three packages to probe Schrödinger crater. 

One package is the Farside Seismic Suite (FSS), which will bear two seismometers to measure moonquakes — allowing scientists to learn how often the far side is hit by small meteoroids. 

The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite (LITMS) will examine how the moon's interior may conduct heat and electricity, while the Lunar Surface ElectroMagnetics Experiment (LuSEE) will look for the electrostatic properties behind strange "dancing dust" on the moon's surface. LuSEE will also examine how the solar wind, or constant stream of charged particles from the sun, interface with the lunar surface and magnetic fields, among other investigations.

Artemis seeks to land humans on the moon no earlier than 2025 to perform crewed science. The program's first uncrewed test mission, Artemis 1, may launch as soon as Aug. 29 as the team continues working through tasks from a "wet dress rehearsal" launch test earlier in the year.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace