How will future missions study water on the Moon?
in the last decade have been acquiring more information about PSRs so
they can be explored with landers and rovers. Scientists using data from
LRO and Japan’s Kayuga orbiter have identified favorable landing sites for future missions. LRO data has also been used to make an extensive atlas of PSRs, which includes high-resolution altitude and slope maps, and even imagery based on dim light bouncing off the upper walls of lunar craters.
ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter,
launched in 2019, is using its advanced radar to map the water ice at
greater depths and quantify it. These efforts will be aided by NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer orbiter launching in 2023, as well as the agency’s ShadowCam instrument onboard South Korea’s first lunar orbiter
launched in 2022. China’s Chang’e-6 mission may bring samples from the
Moon’s south pole back to Earth. These samples would allow us to
precisely date different chemicals within the ice, tracing their origin
story to unlock fundamental mysteries about the solar system.
mission, slated for launch in 2024, would drive into PSRs to make
high-resolution maps of the water ice and other chemicals, and drill the
ice to unravel what is hidden in its pristine depths.
VIPER’s findings will set the stage for NASA’s Artemis program,
which envisions an eventual long-term human presence on the lunar
surface. As part of the identified science priorities for Artemis III, the first crewed Artemis landing, NASA intends to cryogenically sample and bring precious volatiles from PSRs to Earth for meticulous studies. The lunar poles are also central to human and robotic
exploration plans of commercial companies and many other nations,
including China, India, Japan, Europe, and Russia.
PSRs add to the long list of reasons to explore our Moon. Samples from PSRs and the lunar poles will be studied by laboratories worldwide to precisely date the ages of volatiles and materials within, trace their origin, and unlock fundamental mysteries about the Solar System.