Nasa has issued a call for Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads that will fly to the Moon on lunar landers by early 2019 or 2020.

The space agency has teamed up with US and international partners to expand human exploration from the Moon to Mars. It begins with robotic missions on the lunar surface, as well as a space hub for astronauts orbiting the Moon.

Nasa is preparing to acquire commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and build lunar landers for large payloads. It intends to carry out more research on the Moon’s surface ahead of human return.

Nasa Science Mission Directorate deputy associate administrator for exploration Steve Clarke said: “We are looking for ways to not only conduct lunar science but to also use the Moon as a science platform to look back at the Earth, observe the Sun, or view the vast Universe.

“The strategy is that these early missions will help us prepare for more complex future missions such as searching for useable resources, building up a seismic network, and studying the lunar mineralogy and chemistry.”

“In terms of technology, we are interested in those instruments or systems that will help future missions, both human and robotic, explore the Moon and feed forward to future Mars missions.”

On early missions, lunar surface instrument technology is expected to collect data on heat flow within the Moon’s interior, solar wind, atmosphere and dust.

Payloads may also carry out technology demonstrations by using the Moon as a technology testbed for Mars.

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Clarke added: “The strategy is that these early missions will help us prepare for more complex future missions such as searching for useable resources, building up a seismic network to understand the Moon’s internal structure, and studying the lunar mineralogy and chemistry to understand the Moon’s origins.”

“NASA is also looking forward to supporting US industry efforts to provide more commercial exploration services for multiple customers, including NASA.”

The agency has sought payloads to be ready for delivery and integration into lunar landers before December 2021.

Payloads will be under the principal investigator’s control until they are selected for a particular flight.

This call for payloads comes under the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) funding programme. It has requested for proposals for principal investigator-led science instrument and technology investigations. The deadline for the initial proposal is 19 November.