Tonight I will have my first opportunity to view the sky with a new Ethos 3.7 lens. I can not wait. I’ve heard so much regarding it. Full report, or at least a snippet of what I think tomorrow.
I have been fascinated with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter since my observation of the Moon. I can see some amazing things with my scope and of course is think, I wonder what it looks like really close up? That is when I learned NASA has an Orbiter there, right now! So I’ve been checking into that little guy.
Building the LRO Spacecraft
The spacecraft was built by engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Hey right here close to home!! It was then put through extensive testing. The orbiter was subjected to the extreme temperature cycles of the lunar environment as engineers conducted simulated flight operations. “We have cooked LRO, frozen it, shaken it, and blasted it with electromagnetic waves, and still it operates,” said Dave Everett, LRO mission system engineer at Goddard. “We have performed more than 2,500 hours of powered testing since January.”
- One year primary mission in ~50 km polar orbit, possible extended mission in communication relay/south pole observing, low-maintenance orbit
- LRO Total Mass ~ 1000 kg/400 W
- 100 kg/100W payload capacity
- 3-axis stabilized pointed platform (~ 60 arc-sec or better pointing)
- Articulated solar arrays and Li-Ion battery
- Spacecraft to provide thermal control services to payload elements if req’d
- Ka-band high rate downlink ( 100-300 Mbps, 900 Gb/day), S-band up/down low rate
- Centralized MOC operates mission and flows level 0 data to PI’s, PI delivers high level data to PDS
- Command & Data Handling : MIL-STD-1553, RS 422, & High Speed Serial Service, PowerPC Architecture, 200-400 Gb SSR, CCSDS
- Mono or bi-prop propulsion (500-700 kg fuel)
At 5:32 p.m. EDT, June 18, 2009, an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket roared off the launch pad at Launch Complex 41 to begin the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions to the moon.
The LRO instruments return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo. However there is particular emphasis on the polar regions of the moon where continuous access to solar illumination may be possible and the prospect of water in the permanently shadowed regions at the poles may exist. Although the objectives of LRO are explorative in nature, the payload includes instruments with considerable heritage from previous planetary science missions, enabling transition, after one year, to a science phase under NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
With a comprehensive data set focused on supporting the extension of human presence in the solar system, LRO helps identify sites close to potential resources with high scientific value, favorable terrain and the environment necessary for safe future robotic and human lunar missions. All LRO initial data sets are deposited in the Planetary Data System (PDS), a publicly accessible repository of planetary science information, within six months of primary mission completion. Thereafter, the data sets will be deposited in the PDS every three months. The processed data sets will help the world develop a deeper understanding of the lunar environment, paving the way for a safe human return to the Moon and for future human exploration of our solar system.
LRO is collecting detailed information about the Lunar environment. The LRO payload, comprised of six instruments and one technology demonstration, provide key data sets.
The LRO Instruments
LRO has several instruments that will help NASA characterize the moon’s surface. The powerful equipment will bring the moon into sharper focus and reveal new insights about the celestial body nearest Earth. The LRO payload, comprised of six instruments and one technology demonstration, will provide key data sets to enable a human return to the moon.
LRO Views of the South Lunar Pole
The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) characterizes the lunar radiation environment and determine its potential biological impacts. CRaTER also tests models of radiation effects and shielding, which may enable the development of protective technologies.
INFRARED | Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment
The Diviner Lunar Radiometer (DLRE) provides orbital thermal mapping measurements, giving detailed information about surface and subsurface temperatures (identifying cold traps and potential ice deposits), as well as landing hazards such as rough terrain or rocks.
ULTRAVIOLET | Lyman Alpha Mapping Project
The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) maps the entire lunar surface in the far ultraviolet. LAMP also searches for surface ice and frost in the polar regions and provide images of permanently shadowed regions illuminated only by starlight.
NEUTRONS | Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector
The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) creates high resolution hydrogen distribution maps and provides information about the lunar radiation environment. LEND is used to search for evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface, and provides space radiation environment measurements useful for future human exploration.
ELEVATION | Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter
The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) measures landing site slopes, lunar surface roughness, and generate a high resolution 3D map of the Moon. LOLA also identifies the Moon’s permanently illuminated and permanently shadowed areas by analyzing Lunar surface elevations.
SUNLIGHT | Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) retrieves high resolution black and white images of the lunar surface, capturing images of the lunar poles with resolutions down to 1m, and imaging the lunar surface in color and ultraviolet. These images provide knowledge of polar illumination conditions, identify potential resources & hazards, and enable safe landing site selection.
RADAR | Mini-RF Technology Demonstration
The Mini-RF technology demonstration’s primary goal is to search for subsurface water ice deposits. In addition, Mini-RF will take high-resolution imagery of permanently-shadowed regions.
Scroll over photograph below to locate LRO’s instruments.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently captured a unique view of Earth from the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit around the moon.
“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous ‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture.”
In this composite image we see Earth appear to rise over the lunar horizon from the viewpoint of the spacecraft, with the center of the Earth just off the coast of Liberia (at 4.04 degrees North, 12.44 degrees West). The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara Desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. On the moon, we get a glimpse of the crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the moon, on the lunar farside.
This image was composed from a series of images taken Oct. 12, when LRO was about 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the moon’s farside crater Compton. Capturing an image of the Earth and moon with LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instrument is a complicated task. First the spacecraft must be rolled to the side (in this case 67 degrees), then the spacecraft slews with the direction of travel to maximize the width of the lunar horizon in LROC’s Narrow Angle Camera image. All this takes place while LRO is traveling faster than 3,580 miles per hour (over 1,600 meters per second) relative to the lunar surface below the spacecraft!
LRO experiences 12 earthrises every day; however the spacecraft is almost always busy imaging the lunar surface so only rarely does an opportunity arise such that its camera instrument can capture a view of Earth. Occasionally LRO points off into space to acquire observations of the extremely thin lunar atmosphere and perform instrument calibration measurements. During these movements sometimes Earth (and other planets) pass through the camera’s field of view and dramatic images such as the one shown here are acquired.
The high-resolution Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on LRO takes black-and-white images, while the lower resolution Wide Angle Camera (WAC) takes color images, so you might wonder how we got a high-resolution picture of the Earth in color. Since the spacecraft, Earth, and moon are all in motion, we had to do some special processing to create an image that represents the view of the Earth and moon at one particular time. The final Earth image contains both WAC and NAC information. WAC provides the color, and the NAC provides high-resolution detail.
“From the Earth, the daily moonrise and moonset are always inspiring moments,” said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University in Tempe, principal investigator for LROC. “However, lunar astronauts will see something very different: viewed from the lunar surface, the Earth never rises or sets. Since the moon is tidally locked, Earth is always in the same spot above the horizon, varying only a small amount with the slight wobble of the moon. The Earth may not move across the ‘sky’, but the view is not static. Future astronauts will see the continents rotate in and out of view and the ever-changing pattern of clouds will always catch one’s eye, at least on the nearside. The Earth is never visible from the farside; imagine a sky with no Earth or moon – what will farside explorers think with no Earth overhead?”
NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. Perhaps NASA’s most iconic Earthrise photo was taken by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission as the spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”