NASA Confirms New SIMPLEx Mission Small Satellite to Blaze Trails Studying Lunar Surface


Producing maps to locate ice or water trapped in rock at the Moon’s surface, Lunar Trailblazer will help support NASA’s efforts to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon.


A small-satellite mission to understand the lunar water cycle – detecting and mapping water on the lunar surface in order to investigate how its form, abundance, and location relate to geology – has received NASA approval to proceed with the next phase of its development.

On Nov. 24, the Lunar Trailblazer, a mission selected under NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, passed its Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) milestone, obtaining agency-level endorsement to begin final design of hardware and build. The milestone also provides the project’s official schedule and budget determination.

“Lunar Trailblazer will confirm whether water on the Moon is tightly bound in crystalline rock, as recently suggested byNASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) observations, or loosely bound and mobile as a function of temperature,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This SIMPLEx mission bolsters our portfolio of targeted science missions designed to test pioneering technologies while reducing overall costs using new streamlined processes.”

Producing the highest-resolution basemaps to locate ice or water trapped in rock at the Moon’s surface, Lunar Trailblazer will help support NASA’s Artemis program, which includes establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon by the end of the decade and preparing for crewed missions to Mars.

“We’re excited to help answer big planetary science questions with a small satellite by making the new maps of water on the Moon,” said Bethany Ehlmann, the mission’s principal investigator, of Caltech. “Given the importance of water on the Moon for future robotic and human missions, Lunar Trailblazer will provide critical basemaps to guide future exploration.”

Peering into the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions, Lunar Trailblazer will detect signatures of ice in reflected light, and it will pinpoint the locations of micro-cold traps less than a football field in size. Collecting measurements at multiple times of day over sunlit regions, the mission will help scientists understand whether the water signature on the illuminated surface changes as the lunar surface temperature changes by hundreds of degrees over the course of a lunar day.

“Lunar Trailblazer will vastly advance our understanding of water cycles on airless bodies like the Moon,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “By measuring both direct light and low levels of terrain-scattered light, Lunar Trailblazer will generate comprehensive maps of surface water ice, even in the Moon’s darkest regions.”

Selected in 2019, Lunar Trailblazer is the second mission from the current round of programs to receive confirmation and plans to deliver its flight system in October 2022, with a launch currently planned for February 2025. The Janus mission received its confirmation in early September 2020 and will investigate the formation and evolution of small, deep-space “rubble pile” asteroids. The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) mission is still in formulation, with its KDP-C planned for summer of 2021.

“Lunar Trailblazer has a talented, multi-institutional team whose collective effort resulted in a successful formulation phase and confirmation review,” said Calina Seybold, Lunar Trailblazer Project manager, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I am thrilled that the team has earned the privilege of continuing to our final design and fabrication phase.”

For information on NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission, visit:

https://trailblazer.caltech.edu/

For information on NASA’s small satellite activities, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/smallsat-institute

Lunar Trailblazer is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California as part of the Solar System Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington and guided by agency priorities and the Decadal Survey process of the National Academy of Sciences. Managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, JPL also provides system engineering and mission assurance as well as navigation. Lockheed Martin provides the spacecraft and integrates the flight system, under contract with Caltech.

SIMPLEx mission investigations will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Solar System Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The program conducts space science investigations in the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, guided by NASA’s agency priorities and the Decadal Survey process of the National Academy of Sciences.

News Media Contact

Grey Hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0668 / 202-358-1501
grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-2649
ian.j.oneill@jpl.nasa.gov

2020-228

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    The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today filed a civil lawsuit in Vermont federal court against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for violating the federal anti-discrimination statute known as the “Church Amendments.” That statute prohibits health care entities like UVMMC from discriminating against health care workers who follow their conscience and refuse to perform or assist with abortions.
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  • Maryland Tax Preparer Indicted for Preparing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Maryland, returned an indictment today charging an Upper Marlboro tax return preparer with conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur.
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  • Bank Supervision: FDIC Could Better Address Regulatory Capture Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has designed policies to address the risk of regulatory capture by reducing the potential benefit to industry of capturing the examination process, reducing avenues of inducement, and promoting a culture of independence and public service (see figure). Framework for Reducing Risk and Minimizing Consequences of Regulatory Capture FDIC has several policies for documenting bank examination decisions that help promote transparent decision-making and assign responsibility for decisions. Such policies are likely to help reduce benefits to industry of capturing the examination process. However, GAO found that some examinations were not implemented consistent with FDIC policies and that gaps in FDIC policies limited their effectiveness. For example, GAO found that managers sometimes did not clearly document how they concluded that banks had addressed recommendations. By improving adherence to agency policies, FDIC management could better address threats to capture in the examination process. GAO found that FDIC has policies to address potential conflicts of interest that could help block or reduce avenues of inducement. For example, FDIC has post-employment conflict-of-interest policies designed to prevent former employees from exerting undue influence on FDIC and to reduce industry's ability to induce current FDIC employees with prospective employment arrangements. One such policy requires the agency to review the workpapers of examiners-in-charge who accept employment with banks they examined in the prior 18 months. However, FDIC has not fully implemented a process for identifying when to review the workpapers of departing examiners to assess whether independence has been compromised. In particular, FDIC does not have a process for collecting information about departing employees' future employment. By revising its examiner-departure processes, the agency could better identify when to initiate workpaper reviews. FDIC has identified regulatory capture as a risk as part of its enterprise risk management process. The agency has documented 11 mitigation strategies that could help address that risk. Identified mitigation strategies include rotating examiners-in-charge, national examination training, and ethics requirements. FDIC supervises about 3,300 financial institutions to evaluate their safety and soundness. Some analyses by academic researchers have identified regulatory capture in supervision as one potential factor contributing to the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Regulatory capture is defined as a regulator acting in the interest of the regulated industry rather than in the public interest. GAO was asked to review regulatory capture in financial regulation. This report examines FDIC's (1) processes for encouraging transparency and accountability in the bank examination process, (2) processes to minimize potential conflicts of interest among examination staff, and (3) agency-wide efforts to address the risks of regulatory capture and compromised independence. GAO reviewed FDIC's policies and enterprise risk management framework, analyzed bank examination workpapers, and interviewed supervisory staff. GAO is making four recommendations to FDIC related to managing the risk of regulatory capture, including improving documentation of banks' progress at addressing FDIC recommendations and revising examiner-departure processes. FDIC neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations, but described actions it would take in response to them. FDIC's actions, if fully implemented, would address two of the four recommendations. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or clementsm@gao.gov.
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  • Final Defendant Sentenced to More than 17 Years in MS-13 Case
    In Crime News
    An MS-13 gang member was sentenced Tuesday to more than 17 years in federal prison for his role in a brutal machete attack at an apartment complex in Dallas, Texas.
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  • Arrests Made in Conspiracy to Illegally Manufacture Firearms
    In Crime News
    On Oct. 20, 2020, a former United States Marine Lance Corporal, recently stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and two co-defendants were arrested in Boise, Idaho on the federal charge of conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture, possess, and distribute various weapons, ammunition, and suppressors.  Liam Montgomery Collins, 21, and Paul James Kryscuk, 35, recently of Boise, were charged via an indictment, while Jordan Duncan, 25, a North Carolina native also currently residing in Boise, was charged via a complaint, both obtained in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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  • Pennsylvania Marketer Pleads Guilty to Filing False Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    A Bryn Mawr resident pleaded guilty today to filing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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