With increasing interest in returning to the Moon for scientific exploration and human settlement, it is critical that we answer key science questions about the nature of lunar volatiles and water ice in cold traps.
To address these priorities, Mission Control is leading a world-class team of technology and science experts to develop a novel AI-integrated infrared imaging instrument for Lunar rovers called I-SPI: Intelligent Sensing and Perception in Infrared. This instrument is currently under development in Phase 0, funded by the Canadian Space Agency Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program.
I-SPI represents a new wave of AI-integrated smart sensors and instruments that will unlock greater science return in future space exploration missions using Mission Control’s core technologies. The instrument’s AI system builds upon Mission Control’s previously developed AI technologies for planetary terrain classification in CSA-funded projects like ASAS-CRATERS. It will classify geological features from the rover’s navigation camera to help the rover intelligently make science-driven decisions on instrument targeting and data downlink. This helps ensure that the most scientifically relevant data is returned to Earth in timely fashion, where our distributed science team will leverage our core Mission Control Software to conduct their operations.
I-SPI’s infrared imaging system will measure thermal infrared emission in the 2.9-100 µm range for mapping lunar surface temperature, identifying water ice volatiles, and characterizing surface mineralogy. The temperature and volatile measurements will answer key questions about cold traps expected to be found in permanently shadowed regions within craters at the north and south poles. I-SPI will be the first lunar surface science instrument capable of detecting both cold traps and water ice from a stand-off distance of 5m or more, without an active lighting source.
Additionally, I-SPI will be the first to investigate the feasibility of rover navigation using low-power thermal infrared imaging alone, a beneficial strategy for navigation in environments with poor lighting conditions.
We are excited to work with our sensor partner Institut National d’Optique (INO), Canada’s largest center of expertise in optics and photonics, and our core science team: Dr. Ed Cloutis at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Mike Daly at York University, and Dr. Chris Skonieczny at Concordia University. Our extended science team also includes Dr. Ryan Ewing at the Texas A&M University and Dr. Louisa Preston at the Natural History Museum, London, UK.