NASA’s Artemis program is continuing its robotic lunar missions with the selection of the DIMPLE instrument suite. This scientific payload aims to explore the Ina Irregular Mare Patch, a hilly terrain formed by volcanic activity on the moon’s near side. The Ina patch, discovered in 1971, holds valuable information about the moon’s evolution and the broader history of our solar system.
DIMPLE, which stands for “Dating an Irregular Mare Patch with a Lunar Explorer,” is the result of NASA’s PRISM initiative’s third annual proposal call. Through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), PRISM allows researchers to propose and justify specific landing sites for high-priority lunar science investigations. This approach has revitalized lunar exploration and scientific discovery.
The DIMPLE mission, with a cost cap of $50 million, is scheduled for delivery no earlier than the second quarter of 2027. NASA will issue a CLPS task order in 2024 to determine the launch services for delivering DIMPLE to the moon.
The moon holds vast scientific potential, and Ina Irregular Mare Patch is of particular interest. Although NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered around 70 similar patches, Ina remains the largest known one.
DIMPLE’s main goal is to determine the age and composition of the Irregular Mare Patches, shedding light on whether they were formed by recent or ancient volcanic processes. The suite will use a rover, a collection gripping instrument, and a spectrometer to analyze samples collected from Ina’s surface. Depending on the volcanic activity’s timing, DIMPLE’s findings could provide insights into the moon’s thermal evolution and help us understand its geochemical state over time.
By definitively resolving the debate about the moon’s volcanic activity, DIMPLE will not only advance our knowledge of lunar history but also demonstrate technology that can measure absolute ages of various geological terrains across the solar system.
Ultimately, this mission aligns with NASA’s broader lunar plans under Artemis, aiming to explore more of the moon than ever before using advanced robotics and astronauts. The discoveries made on the moon will not only contribute to our understanding of the solar system’s origins but also support long-term human exploration, including potential missions to Mars.