SPIDER searches for water on the moon; Austin-area aerospace company partners for mission

CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — An upcoming mission to the moon will enlist a SPIDER in the search for ice beneath the surface. The Seismic Payload for Interplanetary Discovery, Exploration & Research (SPIDER) is a mission to map just below the surface of the moon, conducted by Australia-based Fleet Space. It will travel aboard Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost II in 2026.

“(It will be) one of the first seismic experiments to go back to the moon since Apollo,” said Fleet Space’s Chief Exploration Officer Matt Pearson.

The partnership between Fleet Space and Cedar Park-based Firefly Aerospace was announced last month.

“We kind of share a passion for understanding the lunar surface,” said Farah Zuberi, mission manager for the two Blue Ghost lunar landers built by Firefly.

Blue Ghost I will launch next year, carrying with it several NASA experiments. Blue Ghost II is scheduled to launch to the dark side of the moon in 2026 with SPIDER aboard.

What is the SPIDER going to space?

According to Pearson, SPIDER is about the size of your hand. The company will use it to scan the subsurface of the moon.

“For all we know, the subsurface of the moon may as well be made out of Swiss cheese, like we really don’t know,” Pearson said.

SPIDER connects to the bottom of the lunar lander, Blue Ghost II, and then drops to the lunar surface. It will scan the surface, collecting data on what’s below. The company uses a similar, larger device on Earth now.

SPIDER (Seismic Payload for Interplanetary Discovery, Exploration & Research) could help scientists locate water on the moon. (Courtesy: Fleet Space)

These initial scans will be a testing ground for future missions that will hopefully lead to colonization.

“Ultimately this is being developed for glacial ice in the subsurface of Mars,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the next step for the company is developing a version of SPIDER that can be used by astronauts on the moon and Mars.

Blue Ghost heads to the moon

Firefly Aerospace will be sending multiple experiments aboard their lunar landers in 2024 and 2026. Zuberi said that one of the challenges they face is designing the lander to function with different types of modules and technologies like SPIDER.

“Each lunar payload is so different, it has unique interfaces, it has unique missions,” Zuberi said.

While still two years away, Blue Ghost II‘s mission is coming up. On top of designing for the experiments, the lunar landers must also be able to survive the harsh landscapes of deep space.

“(They’re) facing these harsh space environments, these harsh launch environments and we have to make sure that you know that we’re able to protect all of the components all the way from the ground through launch through orbit through landing,” Zuberi said.

Blue Ghost I will land in Mare Crisium, in the northern lunar hemisphere sometime in 2024. Blue Ghost II will land on the far side of the moon in 2026.

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