The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA robotic spacecraft currently (as of April 2010) orbiting the Moon on a low 50 km polar mapping orbit. The LRO mission is a precursor to future manned missions to the moon by NASA.
To this end a detailed mapping program will identify safe landing sites, locate potential resources on the moon, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology.The probe will make a 3-D map of the Moon’s surface and has provided some of the first images of Apollo equipment left on the Moon. The first images from LRO were published on 2 July 2009, showing a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds).
Launched on 18 June 2009, in conjunction with the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), as the vanguard of NASA’s Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, this is the first United States mission to the Moon in over ten years. LRO and LCROSS are the first missions launched as part of the United State’s Vision for Space Exploration program.The total cost of the mission is reported as $583 million, of which $504 million pertains to the main LRO probe and $79 million to the LCROSS satellite.
Developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, LRO is a large (1,900 kg) and sophisticated spacecraft planned to fly in a lunar polar orbit for a mission of one Earth year. An optional extended phase of the mission (up to five years) could provide a communications relay for future lunar ground missions, such as a Moon lander or rover.
After completing a preliminary design review in February 2006 and a critical design review in November 2006, the LRO was shipped from Goddard Space Flight Center to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 11 February 2009. Launch was planned for October 2008, but this slid to April as the spacecraft underwent testing in a thermal vacuum chamber.
Launch was rescheduled for June 17, 2009 because of the delay in a priority military launch, and happened one day later, on June 18. The one-day delay was to allow the Space Shuttle Endeavour a chance to lift off for mission STS-127 following a hydrogen fuel leak that canceled an earlier planned launch.
Areas of investigation will include:
* Selenodetic global topography. * Characterization of deep space radiation in lunar orbit. * The lunar polar regions, including possible water ice deposits and the lighting environment. The lunar polar regions experience temperatures of −223 °C (−369.4 °F) and may be able to hold water ice.
* High-resolution mapping (max 0.5 metres (1.6 ft)) to assist in the selection and characterization of future landing sites.In addition, LRO has provided some of the first images of leftover Apollo equipment on the Moon.
On board instruments.
The orbiter carries a complement of six instruments and one technology demonstration:
* CRaTER—The primary goal of the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation is to characterize the global lunar radiation environment and its biological impacts.
* DLRE—The Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment will measure lunar surface thermal emission to provide information for future surface operations and exploration.
* LAMP—The Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project will peer into permanently shadowed craters in search of water ice, seeing by the ultraviolet light from stars and the interplanetary medium.
* LEND—The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector will provide measurements, create maps, and detect possible near-surface water ice deposits.
* LOLA—The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter investigation will provide a precise global lunar topographic model and geodetic grid.
* LROC—The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera has been designed to address the measurement requirements of landing site certification and polar illumination. LROC comprises a pair of narrow-angle cameras (NAC) and a single wide-angle camera (WAC).
LROC will fly several times over the historic Apollo lunar landing sites at 31 miles (50 km) altitude; with the camera’s high-resolution, the lunar rovers and Lunar Module descent stages and their respective shadows will be clearly visible, along with other equipment previously left on the Moon.
The mission will return approximately 70–100 Terabytes of image data. It is expected that this photography will boost public acknowledgment of the validity of the landings, and further discredit Apollo conspiracy theories.
* Mini-RF—The Miniature Radio Frequency radar will demonstrate new lightweight SAR and communications technologies and locate potential water-ice.
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