Our Spaceflight Heritage: LRO and LCROSS turn five!
On June 18, 2009 at 5:32 p.m. EDT, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket roared off the launch pad at Launch Complex 41. In so doing, it signaled the start of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) missions to the Moon. The LRO and LCROSS spacecrafts were tucked inside the payload fairing at the top of the rocket to shield them from atmospheric friction as the launch vehicle climbed toward space. The fairing separated as planned and LRO pushed away from LCROSS and the Centaur stage on its way to orbiting the Moon.
Designed by scientists and built by engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., LRO has returned global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo. The NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., oversaw the development of the LCROSS mission. Northrop Grumman, Redondo Beach, Calif., the LCROSS spacecraft and integration partner, designed and built the spacecraft for this innovative mission.
LCROSS consists of a shepherding satellite and the attached spent Centaur upper stage. The mission objective is to send the Centaur upper stage into a lunar crater near the south pole of the Moon and observe the impact to look for signs of water in the debris plume. The mission successfully uncovered water on October 9, 2009 which impacted into the permanently shadowed region of Cabeus crater near the Moon’s south pole.
LRO’s scientific instruments include the following:
CRaTER– The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation 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.
DLRE– The Diviner Lunar Radiometer 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.
LAMP– The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project 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.
LEND– The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector 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.
LOLA– The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter 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.
LROC– The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera 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.
Mini-RF– 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.
As of March 15, 2011, LRO’s seven instruments delivered more than 192 terabytes of data.
LROC has also photographed several previous mission sites such as Lunokhod, GRAIL, and Apollo.
LRO is scheduled for a one-year exploration mission at a polar orbit of about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, the closest any spacecraft has orbited the moon. Its primary objective is to conduct investigations to enable a human return to the moon.
Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.