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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – As NASA plans to return to the moon sometime in the next decade they are looking at new landing sites for crewed missions. One of the satellites launching on Artemis I is going to help NASA do just that.

Lunar Infrared Imaging (LunIR) is one of the 10 secondary payloads launching on Artemis I. The small CubeSat carries an infrared camera to take pictures of the lunar surface.

News 19 sat down with Lockheed Martin’s Joseph Shoer, a systems lead for LunIR, to find out more about their mapping of the moon. Shoer has been with the project since 2017 and described himself as the big picture guy.

A concept image of LunIR photographing the moon.

“I worked with our principal investigator on the camera to come up with our mission requirements to come up with what we needed the spacecraft to do and how we needed to fly the spacecraft. I worked with the spacecraft provider to go through their requirements, review their designs, help them come up with the right interfaces to our payload. Our latest task has been planning for mission operations for launch,” Shoer explained.

Shoer, who is working out of the Denver office, said LunIR is about the size of a ski boot box with everything the CubeSat could possibly need during the mission.

LunIR’s infrared sensor will collect data about the lunar surface including its composition, thermal signatures and the potential presence of water in both the light and shadowed parts.

“It’s a monochrome sensor, you’ll get down black and white images… So, bright would be whatever is reflective in that band, dark would be whatever’s not reflective in that band,” Shoer explained how the sensor works. “So where it’s dark we’ll see the moon shining thermally and where it’s light we’ll see the sun reflecting. I think water has some particular absorption bands in that wavelength range.”

The mission is a technology demonstration, meaning Lockheed Martin and NASA want to see if the sensor works. So the sensor will take as many images as it can during its five-day flyby of the moon, then spend the next almost month downloading those images back to Earth.

“Our interest at Lockheed Martin is proving out the sensor. So, we’re going to take images, we’re going to evaluate them for our sensor performance and we’re gonna give them to some scientists at Lockheed Martin to see what they can see in those images,” he told News 19.

LunIR teams will also be studying past images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying the moon since 2009, to see how the data matches up between the two.

LunIR’s place inside the Orion Stage Adapter

Shoer said one of the biggest challenges when it comes to launching has been the not knowing.

“We’re a rideshare,” he explained. “There’s a lot about the conditions that we won’t know, there’s a lot about the timing we won’t know…We tried to plan in a way that would cover all of the cases we would expect.”

LunIR will deploy about six hours after the Space Launch System launches on August 29.

LunIR with solar panels unfolded.

“So now to come back to it and see, ‘Oh we’re gonna be flying and it’s less than a month away’. It’s exciting, it’s hectic. Everyone is eager to see this thing work,” Shoer said about the upcoming launch. “I’m optimistic but we’ll see how things go. It’s been a while since we’ve run our tests on the spacecraft. We’re gonna try and stay ready for everything.”

Shoer also wanted everyone to know how much appreciated the team who worked on the spacecraft, including the team at Tyvak who built it.

“We did this during the COVID-19 pandemic so a lot of remote work. The big push that we did to get everything integrated and tested, a lot of phone calls, a lot of zoom meetings, a lot of juggling back and forth. Everyone did a really great job pulling together in that environment. So I think that’s a good LunIR success story,” he said.

You can keep up with LunIR and all the other CubeSats launching with the Artemis I mission on our News 19 Artemis page.