During the Artemis programme, astronauts may need to utilise resources already present on the lunar surface while they explore the Moon. Consider water. Because it is expensive and heavy to launch from Earth, future space travellers may need to look for ice to harvest.
It may be melted, cleaned for drinking, and utilised as rocket fuel once it has been unearthed. But where may we discover water on the Moon, and how much of it is there?
Herein lies the value of NASA's Lunar Flashlight. The small satellite, also known as a CubeSat, is about the size of a suitcase and is designed to find naturally existing surface ice that is thought to reside at the bottom of unexplored craters on the Moon.
According to Barbara Cohen, the mission's lead investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, "prior observations have been a little bit unclear, despite the fact that we have a very solid sense there is ice within the coldest and darkest craters on the Moon."
Scientifically speaking, that's OK, but we need to be certain it exists if we want to send astronauts there to break up the ice and drink it.
The spacecraft, run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, is a technology demonstration that aims to break many technical ground, including becoming the first mission to use lasers to search for water ice.
Additionally, it will be the first planetary spaceship to employ a "green" propellant, a more secure form of fuel.