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JPL Set To Have A Big Impact With Next Lunar Mission

The lunar south pole region will be the destination for the JPL Lunar Impactor probe.
by Bruce Moomaw
Sacramento CA (SPX) Apr 07, 2006

This article is incorrect. It was published on Friday following a tip off that was misinterpreted by the writer. Although withdrawn from official publication on Friday afternoon, as publisher of I take full responsibility for publishing this article and apologize to all concerned for any problems this erroneous article caused.

Simon Mansfield
Publisher has learned the choice for NASA's next lunar mission, to be announced on Monday, will be the Lunar Impactor proposed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The probe will be a relatively simple spacecraft that will ride as a secondary payload to the main Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, now scheduled for launch in October 2008.

The probe will crash at several thousand kilometers per hour into the lunar surface, probably into one of the permanently shadowed craters located near the south pole. The resulting impact debris thrown up will provide additional information on the amount of ice thought to be mixed into the soil there.

The resulting cloud of water vapor from the vaporized ice would be detected by the LRO's LAMP - for Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project - instrument. LAMP will look for the ultraviolet glow produced by any water vapor struck by solar ultraviolet light as it rises out of the shadowed part of the crater.

The other LRO instruments then could quickly inspect the fresh crater interior for any sign of exposed water ice. The craft's Mini-RF imaging radar - designed to map shadowed regions for traces of surface ice - could have a high enough resolution (several dozen meters) to detect a concentration of ice in the small impact crater's bottom, while the LRO's onboard infrared laser altimeter could detect any frost-brightened crater bottom.

Another, similar U.S. imaging radar aboard India's Chandrayan-1 lunar orbiter, already scheduled to orbit the Moon at the same time as LRO, could provide additional confirmation. The two radars are even more sensitive when working together, with one transmitting while the other receives.

A high-resolution imaging near-infrared spectrometer, called the Moon Minerology Mapper - also riding on Chandrayaan might be able to detect exposed crater ice using small amounts of scattered light. LRO's onboard neutron spectrometer and the LAMP instrument might detect any uncovered local concentrations of below-surface water ice in the crater.

The Lunar Impactor probably is the simplest of the four final proposals for the LRO's piggyback spacecraft, but it offers potentially the biggest scientific rewards. This is true particularly if the percentage of ice on the exposed surface of the Moon in such shadowed craters turns out to be rather low, and there are much more concentrated layers a short distance below the surface, as some scientists think possible.

The LRO is expected to initiate a new phase of unmanned exploration of the Moon that forms the first phase of the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration an effort to return humans to on the Moon by 2020 in a much more intensive, permanent and science-oriented way than the Apollo program of the 1960s and early 70s.

The primary goals of the LRO will be to map the entire lunar surface in unprecedented detail, studying the dangers of the lunar radiation environment, and intensively studying the craters near the north and south poles for the presence of water ice - a mission that is not only scientifically important, but also could vital for planning any long-term human colonization of the Moon.

Originally, the LRO was to be launched aboard Delta 2 booster, but last December - because Delta 2 uses a spin-stabilized third stage - NASA decided to use an Atlas 5 or Delta 4 booster. These rockets are more powerful than Delta 2, so the move permitted an additional 1000 kilograms or more than one ton - of spare mass to be launched to the Moon.

So, in late January, NASA asked its 10 regional field centers to submit proposals for a piggyback spacecraft - costing no more than $80 million - that could be paired with the LRO.

The centers responded with 19 proposals, and in late February NASA selected four as finalists. The winner - which understands to be JPL's Lunar Impactor - will be announced at a news conference from NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., at 2 PM Easter Time Monday.

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Magnets Might Foil Moondust
Knoxville TN (SPX) Apr 07, 2006
One major looming problem for future astronauts descending on the Moon for long-term missions could be the persistence and pervasiveness of the extremely dusty lunar soil - a hazard first encountered in the early 1970s, when six Apollo missions landed on Earth's only natural satellite.

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