MoonLIGHT lunar laser ranging array to continue work of Apollo
Moon Express announced on Friday a new agreement with The National Laboratories of Frascati (LNF), which is part of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), and with the University of Maryland (UM), which will bring a new set of lunar laser ranging arrays to the Moon over a series of missions. The arrays will be used to test principles of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and will continue the work of the arrays that the Apollo astronauts had left behind.
The agreement requires that “MoonLIGHT” instruments be carried aboard the first four Moon Express missions, where they will be used with Apollo Cube Corner (CCR) Retroreflector arrays “to test principles of Einstein’s General Relativity theory, add to international scientific knowledge of the Moon, and increase lunar mapping precision that will support the company’s future lander missions,” according to the press release from the company.
“Our next generation lunar laser ranging arrays offer a promising way to test general relativity and other theories of gravity,” said Doug Currie, professor at the University of Maryland and principal scientist for the Apollo arrays that first validated the idea of using lunar-based mirrors for cosmology purposes.
“Our agreement with Moon Express allows us to get our instruments to the Moon cost effectively and potentially revolutionize our understanding of gravity,” he said.
“These tests reach to the core foundational principles of general relativity,” added Simone Dell’Agnello, Ph.D., of LNF. “Any detected violation would require a major revision of current theoretical understanding of the way the universe works.”
UM and LNF are collaborating on the MoonLIGHT project, with help from the Matera Laser Ranging Observatory of ASI and the University of Padova. A mission to demonstrate the technology, which should arrive on the lunar surface using Moon Express MX-1 lunar landers, is planned for 2017.
Half of the total $24 million cost of the four-mission agreement will be put up by Moon Express.
“We are making this investment to support our customer and contribute to fundamental science of the Moon and our universe,” said Naveen Jain, Moon Express co-founder and chairman. “The establishment of a network of new-generation laser retroreflectors on the Moon is also a good business investment into lunar infrastructure for our future missions.”
Apollo astronauts installed the previous generation of laser retroreflectors on the lunar surface, and they are used to measure the distance between the Moon and Earth as the bodies move toward and away from each other. With these measurements, the general theory of relativity and other theories related to gravity can be put to the test. The existing arrays are the only Apollo experiment that still returns data from the Moon, according to the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Moon Express is a commercial space company that is working to explore and develop the resources of the Moon, in the long term, and provide lunar transportation and data services for the government and for commercial customers, in the near future. Currently, the company has a contract with NASA for lunar data purchase worth up to $10 million, is aiming to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and has an agreement with Space Florida to allow them the use of Space Launch Complex 36 in Cape Canaveral.
“The MoonLIGHT arrays are beautiful payloads for us,” said Bob Richards, Moon Express co-founder and CEO. “It’s amazing to think that Moon Express could help solve fundamental science questions of cosmology while furthering knowledge of the Moon that helps our future missions with this series of elegant and relatively low cost payloads.”
Rae Botsford End is a freelance writer and editor whose primary work currently is writing technical white papers, contributing to SFI, and working on a speculative fiction novel that she hopes to have published soon. Rae wanted an opportunity to report on the various space-related events in and around Florida's Space Coast and approached SFI's founder about the possibility. Rae now covers an array of subjects for our growing website.