Proposal to Use Small Spacecraft to Return More Samples From the Moon

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA engineers have devised a plan to adapt technologies in order to increase the amount of samples the space agency can return from the moon and the lunar Gateway during its Artemis program.

Alan Cassell, who leads the Mission Design Center at the NASA Ames Research Center, Calif., presented a paper at the Small Satellite 2022 conference in Logan, Utah. The plan is designed to augment the 100 kg of samples that the Orion crewed spacecraft will return to Earth.

The plan involves adapting the capsule technology that NASA is using in the OSIRIS-REx mission to return samples of the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft reached the asteroid in 2018, and it is due to fly by the Earth and release a capsule with soil samples that will land at the Utah Test and Training Range on Sept. 24, 2023

Credit: NASA

The capsule would be placed atop a SpaceX logistics module that will bring equipment and supplies to the human-tended lunar Gateway station, Cassell said. Gateway’s robotic arm would be used to transfer samples into the capsule.

When the logistics module depart the space station, the capsule would be placed on an Earth return trajectory to reenter Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes in Utah.

Cassell said a variety of samples could be returned using the system, including lunar regolith, materials exposed to the deep-space environment, stabilized samples from crew members to understand the impact on astronaut health, and microbiology experiments.