Open University teams up with NASA for Moon mission

Scientists from The Open University are supporting a NASA mission to once again land on the moon

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s 1969 Moon landing, The Open University (OU) has partnered with NASA to return to the Earth’s satellite.

NASA’s new series of missions, one of which partners with the OU, could possibly make way for the next human visitors to the Moon.


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The OU has teamed up with the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, to develop the Prospect Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS), an instrument to monitor the thin atmosphere near the surface of the Moon. PITMS will be transported to the Moon in 2021 by a commercially-provided lander, as part of NASA’s Artemis programme.

Dr Simeon Barber, senior research fellow at the OU, and is leading the OU’s contribution to PITMS, has explained that the instrument will help investigate the concept of a natural “water cycle” on the Moon.

He said: “There is increasing evidence from orbiting probes that water may migrate away from equatorial regions, as visited during the Apollo era, driven by extreme day-to-night temperature cycles, until it becomes tightly ‘trapped’ at permanent cold polar locations.”

PITMS-Moon-OU
The PITMS instrument // Image via The Open University

Finding answers to the sources and movement of water on the Moon are key to developing plans to harvest lunar water, and support future human exploration missions and even the establishment of lunar bases.

Funding for the OU’s lunar activities comes from the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), the European Commission, the Royal Society, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and co-funding from the EU’s Horizon 202 Framework Programme.

The university also collaborates with lunar projects based in the UK, Europe, US and Russia.


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Barber said: “To properly understand the Moon, we need to visit new places, with new scientific tools. We need to collaborate with partners to obtain the best coverage of the surface, and compare what we find in order to build up a global picture.

“The science we achieve, in particular on the availability of accessible water and oxygen, could help the international community to formulate new ways to explore the Moon and space in a more sustainable manner by using these off-planet resources.”

More information about NASA’s Artemis programme is available at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/what-is-artemis/