Spaceflight Insider

LRO Camera Inspires Improved ShadowCam for KPLO

Tycho Crater central peak

On June 10, 2011, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft angled its orbit 65° to the west, allowing the LRO Camera NACs to capture a dramatic sunrise view of Tycho crater. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA has chosen an Arizona State University developed instrument, ShadowCam, to be incorporated into the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) spacecraft. This device will be in addition to the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) hardware, combining a total of five instruments in an effort to address Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKG).

The KPLO spacecraft

KPLO spacecraft will carry a total of five instruments to lunar orbit – four from South Korea and one from NASA (developed by Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems). Image Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

The knowledge gaps encompass the areas that volatiles tend to migrate toward, specifically water, thus trapping said volatiles in cold, permanently shadowed regions. Instruments like ShadowCam will allow scientists to learn in greater detail the history and quantity of these valuable lunar resources by peering deeply within the dark areas.

Resolution improvements will also provide additional clarity to the terrain that will provide valuable data for future missions.

Located in the middle of South Korea, KARI allocated to NASA a payload capacity of 15 kilograms (∼33 pounds) along with a decided launch destined for a lunar orbit departing in December 2018. Once lunar orbit is achieved, the ShadowCam will focus on the reflectance of the shadowed regions to search for evidence of frost and ice deposits.

Building on the successful Narrow-Angle Camera (NAC) utilized on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the ShadowCam will be an estimated 800 times more sensitive. The higher resolution capable camera will periodically monitor and measure the shadowed terrain with the ability to pinpoint distributed boulder locations for reference.

“We are pleased with the addition of NASA’s ShadowCam instrument,” says Dr. Seok Weon Choi, Director of the Lunar Exploration Program Office at KARI. “KPLO is an exciting mission and will reveal much about the Moon for us and our spacefaring partners.”

Tycho Limb as captured by LRO

Tycho Limb as captured by LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) with few shadows due to Sun orientation. Photo Credit: NASA

Solid-surface planets and their satellites have all been subjected to similar geologic processes that include but are not limited to volcanism, tectonism, gradation, and impact cratering. The Earth’s moon is filled with regions hidden within these craters and the shadows that masterfully hide their revealing impacts.

The ShadowCam instrument

ShadowCam instrument will acquire images of shadowed regions of the Moon using a high-resolution camera, telescope, and highly sensitive sensors. Image Credit: Arizona State University / Malin Space Science Systems

ShadowCam’s mapping process will carefully log details of the surface and placement of the ejecta allowing for accurate cartography. The instrument’s camera has the ability to peer further into dark, shadowed regions, allowing for a more thorough investigation.

Once the observations of terrain are noted, the interpretation can occur allowing for analysis regarding quality and quantities of volatiles.

Jason Crusan, Director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said: “Permanently shadowed regions have been a mystery because the perpetually dark interiors are difficult to image and existing research offers varying interpretations regarding the distribution of volatiles within these cold regions.

“Future missions in deep space will be safer and more affordable if we have the capability to harvest lunar resources, and ShadowCam has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of the quality and abundance of those resources in these regions.”

AES led the payload solicitation and selection for the NASA instrument on KPLO.

A division of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, AES uses innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

Through this partnership opportunity with KARI, AES is addressing key lunar SKGs while complementing KARI’s primary mission objectives and instruments.



Jerome Strach has worked within the Silicon Valley community for 20 years including software entertainment and film. Along with experience in software engineering, quality assurance, and middle management, he has long been a fan of aerospace and entities within that industry. A voracious reader, a model builder, and student of photography and flight training, most of his spare time can be found focused on launch events and technology advancements including custom mobile app development. Best memory as a child is building and flying Estes rockets with my father. @Romn8tr

Reader Comments

Clive Bashford

My first thought was that it would be more effective to have a rover go into the shadows for a close look. My second thought was that a rover would be more expensive, and going to the right shadows would depend on luck.
This telescope is a good idea.

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