Sunday, January 31, 2010

Second LROC NAC EDR Pre-Release

Mark Robinson
Principal Investigator
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
Arizona State University

LROC News System - The first Planetary Data System (PDS) LRO data release will occur in mid-March 2010. To help interested users familiarize themselves with LROC data before the official release date, the LROC team has made a second informal release of PDS Narrow Angle Camera Experiment Data Records (EDRs).

There are now over 350 Gbytes of raw data available.

Drafts of the PDS Software Data Product SIS and Archive Volume SIS are also available to help users understand the data. Please keep in mind that the labels and/or SIS documents may be updated before the official release next March. The directory structure mimics that of the final release including reduced resolution browse images, histograms, and other ancillary information.

Over 1400 NAC frames in PDS EDR format are now available for download:

Pre-Release Image Directory

Pre-Release Extras Directory

Pre-Release Extras Directory (HISTOGRAM)

PDS Software Data Product SIS (Adobe Reader)

PDS Archive Volume SIS (Adobe Reader)

CSV file with image support information

Saturday, January 30, 2010

LROC: Precise 3D Measurements of Objects at the Apollo 14 landing site using LRO's Narrow-Angle Camera stereo images

Traverse map of Apollo 14 landing site. [NASA/GSFC/ASU/OSU] (Full Size HERE.)

Jordan Lawyer

LROC News System

In the zoomed image (HERE), the lunar module can be identified by its deck (red points) and distinctive shadow (green lines). These points are measured in the two stereo images and their corresponding 3D ground coordinates are computed. Note that the shadow analysis uses different times and sun angles of the two images for computation. In addition, the nearby terrain is measured at the selected points on the ground (green points) as a reference. From these measurements, we can compute the height and diameter of the lunar module. As the result, the height of the lunar module (descent stage) is estimated as 3.0 m, compared to the design specification of 3.2 m. On the other hand, the shadow analysis resulted in a height of the lunar module of 3.2 m. Furthermore, using a least squares fitting to a circle the diameter of the lunar module is computed as 4.4 m, compared to the design data of 4.2 m.

Read the detailed story, HERE.

Apollo 14 at the beginning of Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard's first EVA in February, 1971. Erik van Meijgaarden has combined A14-9254 and 9255 as a 4 o'clock portrait of the Lunar Module, now a feature of the Apollo 14 section of the Apollo Surface Journal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Montes Pyrenaeus meets Mare Nectaris

A contact between the dark basalt (left) of Mare Nectaris and the lighter anorthosite highlands (right) of Montes Pyrenaeus runs through the Constellation Program region of interest on the western rim of the Nectaris impact basin. Image width is 2.5 km, raw image resolution is 1m/pixel, NAC frame M104248025LE - click on image to enlarge this subset sample [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Veronica Bray
LROC News System

The Montes Pyrenaeus (15.6°S 41.2°E) mountain range borders the eastern edge of Mare Nectaris, on the rim of the Nectaris basin (330km diameter), which formed by the impact of an asteroid or comet about 3.9 billion years ago. This basin is easily visible in the lower right corner (western limb) of the Moon's disk as seen from Earth (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Mare Nectaris is boxed in red; a close up of this boxed area can be seen in Figure 2.

During the Nectaris basin-forming impact, the lunar crust uplifted and overturned to create the highland mountains of Montes Pyrenaeus; the remaining lunar crust beneath the basin was fractured to great depths. Much later, basaltic magmas rose to the surface through these fractures and erupted, covering the basin floor to form the dark basaltic plains of Mare Nectaris that we see today.

Figure 2. The Nectaris impact basin on the lunar near-side. The basin is 330 km across and filled with dark mare material. Montes Pyrenaeus is the light material to the right of the basin. The arrow locates the region featured in Figure 3 [From Moon Mosaic 80 Light by Mike Deegan].

This region in the Montes Pyrenaeus is one of the fifty NASA Constellation Program Regions of Interest targeted by LROC to provide data that supports future human and robotic exploration of the Moon. Since Montes Pyrenaeus and the mare deposits within the Nectaris basin are both very old, the contact between these two terrains is no longer sharp, but can still be distinguished through albedo contrast (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The contact between the dark basalt of Mare Nectaris and the lighter highlands of Montes Pyrenaeus, highlighted with red arrows. Image width is 2.5km, part of NAC frame M104248025L [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Older surfaces on the Moon were hit more frequently by comets and asteroids and thus should have more impact craters on them. However, there are a large number of small impact craters on the young mare material compared to the older highland material (Figure 3). This discrepancy is the result of heavily fractured anorthosite regolith of the highlands, which is weaker and steeper than the younger basaltic mare. These two factors make it easier to erode and erase small craters during moonquakes and shaking from nearby meteorite impacts. So here is a case where fewer impact craters indicate an older age!

Human explorers at this site would gain key geologic insights about the timing and formation of the Nectaris basin, sample Nectaris mare basalts, and access resources that lie hidden in the mare regolith.

Have a look at other places where the light highlands and dark lowlands meet. Are the contacts between the highlands and lowlands sharp or smooth? Are there always fewer small craters in the highlands?

For more information on LROC's observation campaign for the Constellation Program Regions of Interest read this Lunar and Planetary Science Conference abstract, and visit the LRO Science Targeting Meeting website (look for the baseball card summary sheets for each site: part 1, part 2).

Explore the Nectaris Constellation Region of Interest.

Going to the Moon without you

If Congress agrees, President Obama’s reported decision to terminate NASA’s Constellation program will be disappointing. The central issue for us remains the Moon itself, things made possible by an extended American presence there, and the fulfillment of an unfinished, fifty-year-old compelling vision of the future for our nation and our species. It would result in a miserable and unsettling second disintegration of concentrated human capital devoted to pure science and cutting edge engineering.

Since 1972 the Lunar Pioneers have quietly advocated achieving and holding a permanent presence on the Moon. We believe this is at least as strategically necessary to the exploration and eventual human settlement off the Earth as is an acknowledged need for ready access to Earth orbit. Having finally experienced a long-awaited Renaissance of interest in the Moon, inspired by the Columbia tragedy, we’re not likely to be dissuaded from this logical course by transitory politics, even if Apollo originated in that same swamp.

Whatever politics you prefer the proposal to eliminate Constellation floated by the White House cuts against the grain of NASA’s reason-for-being, even if that federal agency’s self-continuity long ago gained the upper hand over its original purpose. More peculiarly to us, however, is the way this proposal seems to run counter to the politics of the President and his broad base of supporters.

Despite the administration’s reputation for expediency it’s simply naïve to dismiss a clear dedication to a certain worldview. President Obama has shown himself to be thoroughly committed to government by default as the first solution to every problem. Privatization is an atypical approach for this White House, and an unfocused proposal to spend $6 billion annually on commercial orbital transportation seems like a radical departure from the President’s core beliefs.

Lunar Pioneer is highly invested in open skies and commercial space access, to low Earth orbit and beyond, so we’re a little suspicious of the $6 billion proposal. In the end, more to pattern, it would not surprise us if at the end of the receiving line were names like Boeing instead of Bigelow. Unaddressed, as yet, are ITAR, the FAA, or how to handle the suspicions of nations less dedicated to “Free Markets.”

The president and his base of supporters live and breathe in the atmosphere of an ever-expanding federal workforce. “Privatization” for them is toxic anathema, dismissed as a joke among the most ardent supporters or simply dismissed contemptuously by State and Federal Union organizers, for example, genuinely threatened by the concept, if genuine.

After a year of over-examination of NASA’s reason-for-being, why should supporters of commercial space transportation like us be less than skeptical?

No surprise there. We still hold a grudge against President Nixon for scrubbing the last three planned Apollo lunar landings, Apollo 18, 19 and 20; each of them “J” missions devoted to science. That might seem a bit extreme to some, but the enduring legacy of America’s original retreat from the Moon is still with all of us.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

White House won't fund NASA moon program

[Ed. Note: Coming as the following story does, from two Orlando Sentinel writers of note, and good reputation, it leaves little ambiguity as to what will be in the White House budget proposal for federal Fiscal Year 2011, which begins November 1, 2010. It's important to remember, however that "the president," as they say, "proposes, but Congress disposes." NASA is a "creature of Congress." In the end, if heat can continue to be brought to bare Congress is likely to restore some or all of this funding for FY '11, especially as the present fiscal year ends within a week of the mid-term federal election and coming, as it does, with the end of the Shuttle program.

I can and will speculate further, later, on motivations and ideologies, etc. - those of interest groups and such, but I will stop there, as I should, for the moment. In the end this kind of policy decision is up to the American voter. They can be prevailed upon to take up that responsibility if they are made to understand this.
- Joel Raupe for Lunar Pioneer]

Robert Block
and Mark K. Matthews
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington and Cape Canaveral - NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there, if President Obama gets his way.

When the White House releases its budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was to return humans to the moon by 2020. The Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to return to the moon. There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases.

"We certainly don't need to go back to the moon," one administration official said.

Instead, according to White House insiders, agency officials, industry executives and congressional sources familiar with Obama's plans, NASA will look at developing a "heavy-lift" rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low-Earth orbit. That day will be years away.

Read the full story HERE.

Have We Forgotten What Exploration Means?

Paul Spudis
The Once and Future Moon
Smithsonian Air & Space

Yet again, the U.S. space program is in the slough of despond, whereby previous assumptions are questioned, the current path is discarded, the program is re-directed, and luminous enthusiasm heralds the new direction…

And then it all tapers off to nothing.

As long as we are navel-gazing during this policy hiatus, I want to examine a topic that many think is self-evident: what activities do we mean by the word “exploration?” NASA describes itself as a space exploration agency; we had the Vision for Space Exploration. The department within the agency developing the new Orion spacecraft and Ares launch vehicle is the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. So clearly, the term is tightly woven into the fabric of the space program. But exactly what does exploration encompass?

Exploration can have very personal meanings, such as your own exploration of a new town, or a new and unknown field of knowledge. Here, I speak of the collective, societal exploration exemplified by our national space program. This exploration began in 1957, when the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union initiated a decade-long “space race” of geopolitical dimensions with the United States. That race culminated with our first trips to the Moon. Once its primary geopolitical rationale had been served, Moon exploration was terminated. Since then, the “space program” has been astonishingly unfocused – drifting from a quest to develop a reusable spacecraft to building orbiting space stations – and despite numerous studies affirming needed direction, unfulfilled plans to send humans back to the Moon and eventually on to Mars.

When the race to the Moon began 50 years ago, space was considered just another field of exploration, similar to Earth-bound exploration of the oceans, Antarctica, and even more abstract fields such as medical research and technology development. Moreover, many used the term “frontier” when speaking about space, touching a very familiar chord in our national psyche by drawing an analogy with the westward movement in American history. What better way to motivate a nation shaped by the development of the western frontier than by enticing it with the prospect of a new (and boundless) frontier to explore? After all, we are descended from immigrants and explorers. Over time however, few recognized that there had been a shift in the definition and understanding of just what exploration represented.

Starting around the turn of the last century, while still retaining its geopolitical context, exploration became closely associated with science. Although first detectable in the 19th Century exploration of America and Africa, the tendency to use science as the rationale for geopolitical exploration reached its acme during the heroic age of polar exploration. Amundsen, Nansen, Cook, Peary, Scott and Shackleton all had personal motivations to spend years of their lives in the polar regions, but all of them cloaked their ego-driven imperatives in the mantle of “scientific research.” After all, the quest for new knowledge sounds much nobler than self-gratification, global power projection or land grabbing.

Science has been part of the space program from the beginning and has served as both an activity and a rationale. The more scientists got, the more they wanted. They realized that their access to space depended upon the appropriation of enormous amounts of public money and hence, supported the non-scientific aspects of the space program (although not without some resentment). Because science occurs on the cutting edge of human knowledge, its conflation with exploration is understandable. But originally, exploration was a much broader and richer term. Which brings us back to the analogy with the westward movement in American history and the changed meaning of the word “exploration.” A true frontier has explorers and scientists, but it also has miners, transportation builders, settlers and entrepreneurs. Many are perfectly satisfied to limit space access to only the former.

“Exploration without science is tourism.” – Statement of the American Astronomical Society on the Vision for Space Exploration, July 11, 2005

This fatuous quote accurately reflects the elitist, constricted mindset of many in the scientific community. In one fell swoop, the famous explorers of history – Marco Polo, Columbus, Balboa, Drake – are consigned to the category of “tourist.” Overcoming great difficulty and hardship, these men sought new lands for many varied reasons. Exploration includes obtaining new knowledge but it does not end there; it begins there. The quest for new lands has always been a search for new territories, resources, and riches. Historically, survival and wealth creation are stronger drivers of exploration and settlement than curiosity.

What is missing from our current program of space exploration is a firm understanding that it must generate wealth, not just consume it. Exploration is more than an experiment. The idea of space as a sanctuary for science has trapped us in an endless loop of building expendable hardware to support science experiments. Once the data are obtained, of what use is an empty booster or a used rover? We’ve “been there” and a pipeline of new inquiry awaits, to be facilitated by new spacecraft and new sensors designed to reach new destinations of study. Hugely expensive equipment must be developed to support science while the idea of creating transportation infrastructure or settlement is branded as “budget busting” (i.e., manned space exploration cuts into science’s budget). So “exploration” lives to enable science, period.

This is our current model of space exploration. I contend that it is not exploration as historically understood and practiced. Traditionally, science (knowledge gathering) was a tool in the long process of exploration, which included surveys, mining, infrastructure creation and settlement (all advanced and protected with military assistance). This was the model of national exploration prior to the 20th Century and it is readily applicable today – if we change our business model for space. What is needed is the incremental, cumulative build-up of space faring infrastructure that is both extensible and maintainable, a growing system whose aim is to transport us anywhere we want to go, for whatever reasons we can imagine, with whatever capabilities we may need.

These changes do not require that an ever-increasing amount of new money be spent on space. Instead, true exploration requires only the understanding that it must contribute more to society than it consumes. And the American people have every right to expect as much in return for their years of supporting NASA.

King Crater's unusual melt pond

A Constellation Program Region of Interest near the northeast edge of the unusually large melt pond adjacent to the lunar far side crater King. The boundary between the dark, coherent impact melt rock at the lower left of the image and the bright, pulverized ejecta blanket to the upper right is clearly visible in the floor of a smaller crater that formed at the boundary between these two units. Image width is 1.3 km, pixel width is 1.29 m. Subset of NAC frame M106088433R [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Carolyn van der Bogert
LROC News Service

The lunar far side crater King is about 77 km in diameter and 5 km deep. King Crater is one of the youngest craters on the far side. It is an excellent example of a Copernican-aged complex impact crater. Simple impact craters are bowl shaped, whereas complex craters have central peaks, and sometimes even concentric rings. King is known particularly for its remarkable claw-shaped central peak and an unusually large ~20 km diameter, ca. 225 km3 melt pond. The melt pond, which lies to the northwest of King, has a relatively flat, smooth surface that is a potentially safe landing site for both robotic and human lunar exploration. (see the Apollo 16 Metric camera image taken in 1972 below, or browse this image in the ASU Apollo Digital Image Archive.) Scientific questions that can be answered by sending astronauts to explore this site include: How old is King Crater? What is the origin of the melt pond? What is the nature of the regolith in the lunar highlands?

Apollo 16 Metric Camera image of King Crater. Explore Apollo 16 orbital Metric Image AS16-M-0891 HERE [NASA/JSC/Arizona State University].

Questions about the origin of the melt pond were raised in the 1970's, after King was photographed by Apollo 16. Is the melt pond composed of impact-related melt? Or does it have a volcanic origin? A volcanic origin is supported by the large size of the melt pond, and the fact that there are few small impact melt ponds evenly distributed around the entire crater. However, there is no apparent volcanic source for the melt, rather the melt drapes the surrounding area and exhibits flow features that indicate that it flowed into and accumulated in the topographic low of an old crater. One possible explanation as to why there is little impact melt distributed around the entire crater, which could also explain the unusual central peak complex, is that King Crater may have been formed by an oblique impact. During an oblique impact, impact melt would be preferentially deposited along the direction of the incoming projectile, not evenly around the margin of the crater. Samples of the melt pond and surrounding impact debris, collected either robotically or by humans, can answer the questions about the melt pond's origin. In addition, new information about impact craters on the Moon helps us understand how terrestrial impact craters form on the Earth, where erosion and other geological processes often destroy valuable scientific evidence.

NAC image M106088433R, centered at 6.91° N, 119.93° E, extends from the northern rim of King, across the large melt pond, and into the ejecta blanket of King. The image was taken at a solar illumination angle of 35 degrees, which means that the Sun was relatively high in the sky. Such imaging conditions are useful for seeing subtle color differences between different areas within the image. For example, the impact melt pond is darker in color than the ejecta blanket. The brightest spots in the image are boulders of anorthositic (highlands) material that lie on top of the ejecta blanket. Such albedo differences also offer clues to how long materials have been exposed to the solar wind, cosmic radiation, and micrometeorite impacts, processes collectively called space weathering.

For more information on LROC's observation campaign for the Constellation Program Regions of Interest read this Lunar and Planetary Science Conference abstract, and visit the LRO Science Targeting Meeting website (look for the baseball card summary sheets for each site: part 1, part 2).

Browse the entire NAC image to explore the unusual melt pond and ejecta blanket of King Crater.

Detail from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow-Angle Camera image M106088433R (Orbit 781, 28 August 2009) centered 6.91 N, 119.93 E. Full image extends from the northern rim of King crater across a large melt pond, into King's ejecta blanket. From the latter portion of LRO's commissioning phase, the image resolution is approximately 1.29 meters per pixel [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NASA to upgrade “space internet” by 2018

John Brownlee

In space, no one can hear you Tweet.

Well, that’s not entirely true, but what is true is space Internet is a strange hodgepodge of communication systems, and collectively it all largely sucks. A new plan by NASA, however, will result in the agency consolidating its Space Network, Near Earth Network and Deep Space Network into one unified system… and hopefully, this will lead to vastly improved Internet access for astronauts.

The problem is that right now, NASA has no unified communication infrastructure. Each mission the agency puts together is uniquely put together, and communication equipment widely varies. This equipment consequently proves difficult to upgrade, leaving wide discrepancies in performance: the International Space Station, for example, gets sub-dial-up rates, while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter can suck up over 450GB a day.

NASA’s aiming to fix this by appointing Badri Younes as deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation, who will overhaul, consolidate and standardize all of NASA’s disparate communications system by 2018.

Read the post, HERE.

Lunar geophysicists convene at ASU

Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, former U.S. Senator and the twelfth and last man to set foot on the Moon for the first time in 1972, keynotes for geophysicists gathered at Arizona State University last week. He discussed data collected and archived from the Apollo Era and lessons for the future [Scott Stuk].

Lee Allison
Arizona Geology

Geophysicists gathered at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration last week for a 2-day workshop to "highlight how the geophysical community can contribute to NASA’s long-term plans to install a series of autonomous geophysical stations on the Moon."

Co-convenor Matt Fouch said, “The goal of the scientific exchange is to provide NASA and the broader scientific community with ideas and recommendations about how to most efficiently and effectively collect new geophysical data from the lunar surface, using everything from landers to robots to astronauts, and over a range of local, regional, and global scales."

Read the full article HERE.

Scientists discuss lunar visits, possible return

Rheyanne Weaver
Arizona State Press

ASU hosted one of the first specific workshops on ground-based geophysics of the moon on the Tempe campus Thursday and Friday.

The event focused on the discussion of the physical state and knowledge of the moon, as well as future plans to visit the moon.

“One of the primary goals for the workshop was to provide an interface between the planetary and the terrestrial geophysical communities,” said Matthew Fouch, an associate professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and one of the event’s coordinators.

Read the full article HERE.

The Development of Wheels for the Lunar Roving Vehicle

Vivake Asnani, Damon Delap, and Colin Creager
NASA - Glenn Research Center

Abstract - The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was developed for NASA’s Apollo program so astronauts could cover a greater range on the lunar surface, carry more science instruments, and return more soil and rock samples than by foot. Because of the unique lunar environment, the creation of flexible wheels was the most challenging and time consuming aspect of the LRV development. Wheels developed for previous lunar systems were not sufficient for use with this manned vehicle; therefore, several new designs were created and tested. Based on criteria set by NASA, the choices were narrowed down to two, the wire mesh wheel developed by General Motors (GM), and the hoop spring wheel developed by the Bendix Corporation. Each of these underwent intensive mechanical, material, and terramechanical analyses, and in the end, the wire mesh wheel was chosen for the LRV. Though the wire mesh wheel was determined to be the best choice for its particular application, it may be insufficient towards achieving the objectives of future lunar missions that could require higher tractive capability, increased weight capacity, or extended life. Therefore lessons learned from the original LRV wheel development and suggestions for future Moon wheel projects are offered.

Read the full report (Adobe Reader) HERE.

Soviet Lunokhod (Luna 17, Nov 1970 & Luna 21, Jan 1973). Teleoperated from Earth, 8 traction wheels, 800 kg with a max speed of 2 kph and a range of 37 kilometers.

- (Apollo 14, Feb 1971). Seventy-five kilos on two free wheels, towed by EVA crew with an approximate range of three kilometers.

- (Apollo 15, July 1971; Apollo 16, April 1972 & Apollo 17, Dec 1972) Operated by astronauts on-board with a joystick, on four traction wheels, a maximum speed of 16 kph, a loaded mass 700 kg and a range 36 kilometers.

Electrostatic Separator for Beneficiation of Lunar Soil

Process complexity may be significantly reduced

Jacqueline Quinn and Ellen Arens
NASA Kennedy Space Center
Steve Trigwell
ASRC Aerospace
James Captain
University of Central Florida

NASA Tech Briefs, January 2010

A charge separator has been constructed for use in a lunar environment that will allow for separation of minerals from lunar soil. Any future lunar base and habitat must be constructed from strong, dense materials to provide for thermal and radiation protection. It has been proposed that lunar soil may meet this need, and sintering of full-scale bricks has been accomplished using lunar simulant. In the present experiments, whole lunar dust as received was used. The approach taken here was that beneficiation of ores into an industrial feedstock grade may be more efficient. Refinement or enrichment of specific minerals in the soil before it is chemically processed may be more desirable as it would reduce the size and energy requirements necessary to produce the virgin material, and it may significantly reduce the process complexity.

The principle is that minerals of different composition and work function will charge differently when tribocharged against different materials, and hence be separated in an electric field. The charge separator is constructed of two parallel copper plates separated by a variable distance in a vacuum-compatible box. The top and bottom of the box are designed so that the separation and angle between the plates can be varied. The box has a removable front plate for access, and each plate is connected to a high-voltage, vacuum-compatible connector that connects to feedthroughs in a vacuum chamber. Each plate is respectively powered by positive and negative high-voltage regulated DC power modules. Tribocharged dust is fed into the top through a small hole, where it is subjected to an intense electric field generated between the plates. Positively charged particles will be attracted to the negative plate, while negatively charged particles will be attracted to the positive plate. Dust collected on each plate and on filter paper in the collection box at the bottom of the plates can then be weighed to determine the mass-fraction separation.

Because this device is meant for use in a lunar environment, much higher voltages can be used where there is no gas breakdown. Special care was taken in the design of the high-voltage connections to the separator plates. Pure copper plates and other materials were chosen for their low outgassing properties. Modeling of particle trajectories within the plates showed that for the Q/M (charge to mass ratio) measurements of the charged particles in vacuum, a smaller, more compact separator can be used on the Moon compared to the same device on Earth. Another advantage of this design is that, in the lower gravity environment of the Moon, particles will spend more time falling between the plates. Again, a smaller device and higher voltages can use this advantage to increase the efficiency of the lunar soil beneficiation process.

NASA studies Ad Astra VASIMR for Lunar Tug

Ad Astra VX-200 at full power using argon propellant/

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc has posted a video demonstration of the VASIMR-powered lunar tug concept with news of the NASA study. Read the post, HERE.

NASA's first lunar outpost plan (1992)

Beyond Apollo - Noted recorder of NASA's notions of yesterday, David S.F. Portree offers a no-nonsense post covering the 1992 lunar outpost plans that crashed upon the shoals of the first Augustine commission, and ultimately Congress.

David S. F. Portree
Beyond Shuttle

The Exploration Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, launched the First Lunar Outpost (FLO) study in December 1991 by establishing six study teams. In June 1992, the JSC Systems Engineering Division and McDonnell Douglas-Houston developed FLO Crew Lander and Habitat flight plans to aid the FLO Mission Design and Analysis Team.

For their analysis, JSC and McDonnell targeted the first FLO expedition to Mare Smythii, a dark basaltic plain on the moon's eastern limb. They assumed that NASA would develop a heavy-lift rocket capable of launching 200 metric tons to 185-kilometer low-Earth orbit and 27 metric tons to the lunar surface. The monster launcher would permit the two FLO landers to be launched with their respective Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI) stages attached, eliminating Earth-orbital rendezvous and docking and reliance on an Earth-orbiting space station from the FLO plan. In other words, this FLO iteration would use the Direct Ascent lunar mission mode considered - and rejected - for Apollo moon missions. The first FLO expedition would leave Earth five years after program initiation; JSC and McDonnell judged this to be "not only feasible and attractive, but essential in gaining budget acceptance."

Read the full posting HERE.

Stanley Lebar's camera brought Tranquility Base into homes

From left, Stanley Lebar and Richard Nafzger, two engineers and former NASA employees, who were involved in the taping of the Apollo 11 moon landing, at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt (Associated Press)

Matt Schudel
Washington Post

On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the Apollo 11 lunar module and stepped onto the surface of the moon, a small camera captured the moment and sent pictures back to Earth, 239,000 miles away. At least 500 million people witnessed the long-unattainable milestone on television, as gray, halting images showed Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walking on the moon and planting the American flag.

Armstrong memorably described the accomplishment as "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

No one who heard those words was happier than Stanley Lebar. An engineer at a Westinghouse plant outside Baltimore, Mr. Lebar (pronounced luh-BAR) spent five years managing a NASA project to build the camera that went to the moon.

He and his team of 75 engineers used the emerging technology of microelectronics to make a mobile, compact camera that weighed only 7 pounds. Most TV cameras at the time weighed 700 pounds. The new camera had to survive the rigors of liftoff and space travel, it had to work in low light and it had to function in temperatures as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as minus-250. Most important, it had to transmit clear black-and-white images that could be shown on television.

After solving these puzzles, Mr. Lebar faced another obstacle: He had to overcome the skepticism of some NASA officials, who considered his camera excess baggage and of no scientific value.

Read the full Obituary HERE.

Saga of the Bonestell 'Lunar Landscape'

Just a small sampling from the middle of "Lunar Landscape" by Chesley Bonestell (1957) and representing a notion from the dawn of the Space Age of the view of Earth from a New Moon's near side northern hemisphere and also how much has been learned of the Moon since that time. Micrometeorite bombardment, for example, "gardens" the immediate surface of the Moon every two million years, causing an erosion unseen on Earth and smoothing most of lunar mountains. Earth is not far from what was seen by Apollo astronauts or Kaguya as recently as 2008, though the great systems of clouds are not seen, nor is the angle of North America properly portrayed. The full mural can be seen here, showing why the mural's unique place across more than just one discipline makes it more than worthy of preservation.

Tom D. Crouch
Smithsonian Air & Space Blog

For more than a decade it has been my privilege, among my other duties, to serve as curator of the National Air and Space Museum art collection. It comes as a surprise to many folks to realize that the Museum has an art collection. In fact, it includes over 4,700 works by artists with names like Daumier, Goya, Rauschenberg, Rockwell and Wyeth, and is perhaps the finest and best-rounded collection of aerospace-themed art held by any of the world’s museums. People who are aware that I manage the Museum’s art treasures occasionally ask if I have a favorite work in the collection, I do.

Chesley Bonestell’s mural, Lunar Landscape, was unveiled at the Boston Science Museum’s Haydon Planetarium on March 28, 1957. “No spaceship reservations are needed for a startlingly realistic visit to the Moon” announced a museum press release. Measuring forty feet long by ten feet tall, the dramatic panorama of the lunar surface was the masterwork of an artist who had done more than his fair share to set the stage for the coming of the Space Age.

Read the full post HERE.

Lunar 'one-way to stay' thoughts

Jonathan Goff
Selenian Boondocks

The more I think about the Lunar One-Way-to-Stay concept, the more intriguing it is. Fundamentally, it’s one of the only ways with existing transportation systems to get the cost of early lunar experimentation anywhere near low-enough to be useful and interesting. Ultimately, for thriving two-way cislunar commerce, you need tugs, and depots, and high-flightrate RLVs. But this approach might allow you to work the problem from both ends.

Read the full post HERE.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Space-Frame Lunar Lander

A Spacecraft-like System looking like a truss equipped with thrusters would land on and conform to an irregular terrain surface.

Steven A. Curtis
Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA Tech Briefs, January 2010

The space-frame lunar lander is a conceptual spacecraft or spacecraftlike system based largely on the same principles as those of the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna described in the two immediately preceding articles. The space-frame lunar lander was originally intended to (1) land on rough lunar terrain, (2) deform itself to conform to the terrain so as to be able to remain there in a stable position and orientation, and (3) if required, further deform itself to perform various functions.

In principle, the space-frame lunar lander could be used in the same way on Earth, as might be required, for example, to place meteorological sensors or a radio-communication relay station on an otherwise inaccessible mountain peak.

Like the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna, the space-frame lunar lander would include a trusslike structure consisting mostly of a tetrahedral mesh of nodes connected by variable-length struts, the lengths of which would be altered in coordination to impart the desired overall size and shape to the structure. Thrusters (that is, small rocket engines), propellant tanks, a control system, and instrumentation would be mounted in and on the structure (see figure). Once it had landed and deformed itself to the terrain through coordinated variations in the lengths of the struts, the structure could be further deformed into another space-frame structure (e.g., the amorphous rover or the space-frame antenna).

Also like the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna, the spaceframe lunar lander could be designed and built using currently available macroscopic electromechanical components or by exploiting microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), or carbon nanotubes, and any or all of these versions could include control systems based partly on evolvable neural software systems. The areal mass densities of these versions are expected to be comparable to those of the corresponding versions of the space-frame antenna.

This work was done by Steven A. Curtis of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-14848-1

Geohazards on the Moon and the importance of the International Lunar Network (ILN)

From Lunar Pioneer
International Lunar Network (ILN) "node" notionally superimposed within the actual topography of the southern Mare Imbrium basin, just south of Mons La Hire, whose eastern flanks are lit with dawn. Fanciful though it might be as seen within the lunar equivalent of "street view" in Google Earth, this is unlikely ever to be a landing site for the ILN. The architecture for the lander, however, represents what the ILN team expects from the international effort to finish the job left unfinished after the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment instruments were defunded and shut down in 1977. [LP/NASA/MSFC/ILN]

Barbara A. Cohen
and the MSFC/APL ILN Team
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Seven of the 28 shallow seismic events recorded by the Apollo passive seismic experiment (PSE) network released energy equivalent to earthquakes with magnitudes of 5 or greater. On Earth, such quakes can cause extensive damage to structures near the epicenter. Unexpected structural damage to a lunar habitat could have devastating results and thus, lunar seismicity may present a significant geohazard to long-term human habitation.

Seismic Hazard? Lunar seismicity is 3-5 orders of magnitude lower than Earth. However, the propagation of quake energy is strikingly different on the Moon than on the Earth. The Moon is largely anhydrous and its crust is extensively fractured; the resulting high lunar Q values mean that moonquake attenuation is low. The maximum signal from a shallow moonquake can last up to 10 minutes with a slow tailing off that can continue for hours in total duration, and moonquakes tend to produce seismic waves of higher frequency than earthquakes. Ground motion is the most important factor in causing structural damage, and on the Moon, the observed ground motion of the PSE instruments during moonquakes were typically less than 1 nanometer and artificial seismic signals dampened out within ~ 10 km. However, the Apollo PSEs never recorded a strong shallow moonquake directly below the seismic network.

One mechanism for generation of shallow moonquakes may be lithospheric stress at terrain boundaries such as basaltic mare or large impact basins. If this mechanism is valid, siting a lunar base on the edge of the largest, deepest lunar basin (SPA) could put it at increased seismic risk. We do not yet have enough data on strong, shallow moonquakes to understand their cause, depth, or lateral distribution. Predicting where shallow moonquakes may occur is important for the next phase of lunar exploration.

To evaluate a potential lunar seismic risk, two approaches are needed. First, further research to understand and effectively model lunar ground motion and acceleration by applying advanced terrestrial models and numerical techniques to the lunar environment is crucial. Second, a long-lived, global lunar seismic network needs to be established to globally characterize lunar seismicity and establish the origin, frequency, and propagation of strong moonquakes.

The ILN Mission: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD) International Lunar Network Anchor Nodes Mission continues its concept development. The mission will establish two-four nodes ofthe International Lunar Network (ILN), a network of lunar geophysical stations envisioned to be emplaced by the many nations collaborating on this joint endeavor. The US stations of the ILN, called the Anchor Nodes, are being planned by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), with contributions from JPL, ARC, GRC, DOD, and industry.

The Anchor Nodes project has progressed through pre-Phase A design activities and is currently conducting an extended risk reduction program. Risk reduction activities include propulsion thruster testing; thermal control testing and demonstration; low power avionics development; composite coupon testing and evaluation; landing leg stability and vibration; and demonstration of landing algorithms in the MSFC Lunar Lander Robotic Exploration Testbed, which was established in support of risk reduction testing to demonstrate ILN capabilities. An MSFC test vehicle using an Anchor Nodes-like design and a compressed air propulsion system is in use for demonstration of control software. A second version of the MSFC vehicle is planned that will utilize an alternate propulsion system for longer duration flight and descent testing. The upgraded test vehicle will also integrate flight-like components for risk reduction testing, such as landing sensors (cameras, altimeters), instruments, and structural features (landing legs, deployment mechanisms).

International Participation: Representatives from space agencies in Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States agreed on a statement of intent for near and long-term evolution and implementation of the ILN. Working groups are addressing potential landing sites, interoperable spectrum and communications standards, and a set of scientifically equivalent core instrumentation to carry out specific measurements.

Summary: The concept of an International Lunar Network provides an organizing theme for US and International landed science missions in the next decade by involving each landed station as a node in a geophysical network. Creation of such a network will dramatically enhance our knowledge regarding the internal structure and composition of the moon, as well as yield important knowledge for the safe and efficient construction and maintenance of a permanent lunar outpost.

To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration

Don E. Wilhelms
To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration
The University of Arizona Press | 1994 | ISBN: 0816514437 | 524 pages | PDF | 180 Mb

Don Wilhelms was a member of the Apollo Scientific Team and the US Geological Survey. In this book he describes his role, along with his geologist colleagues, during the Apollo explorations of the Moon. In addition, he presents a brief history of the theories associated with the origin of the moon and its craters, the people and problems involved in the section of the Apollo landing sites, a discussion of the geological results obtained from each of the Apollo landing sites, and finally a summary of the findings from the Apollo missions and the development of a theory to explain the formation of the moon.

(Ed. Note: The entirety of Dr. Wilhelms' landmark book in Adobe Reader format is presently available from multiple on-shore and off-shore commercial servers, HERE. Though there is no cost aside from the bandwidth and time needed to download a 180 megabyte "zipped" .rar archive file, this notice is not an endorsement for what may or may not be a proprietary or copywrite violation. It can, however, be considered as strong an endorsement of Dr. Wilhelms' important work and this book, in particular. The time is long overdue that this work from 1992 be made available to a younger audience and in a modern form.)

Deflection and enhancement of solar energy particle flux at the Moon by structures within the terrestrial magnetosphere

Though no two encounters are the same, each orbit the Moon encounters Earth's relatively substantial magnetotail, as seen in the greatly simplified NASA schematic above. The force of solar wind and the interplanetary magnetic field vary most, as with similar encounters with Earth's shadow the Moon's slice of the larger magnetotail takes it through differing depths and layers. Varying least are the poles and intensity at a distance of Earth's dynamo. The modifying effects of such encounters on the Moon's own dynamic processes, particularly upon the production of water and hydroxyl and the charging and levitation of submicron-sized lunar dust have a direct impact on future human activity there.

E. M. Harnett
Department of Earth and Space Sciences
University of Washington, Seattle

The Moon spends 25% of its orbit within the terrestrial magnetosphere. Particle tracking is used to investigate access points of 35 MeV and 760 MeV particles into the magnetosphere for both quiet and disturbed magnetospheric conditions. The results indicate that solar energetic particle (SEP) flux at the Moon can be reduced for storm conditions when the magnitude of the magnetic field in the sheath is enhanced, as particles in the 35 MeV range have limited access to the magnetosphere for storm conditions. Plasmoids are also effective at reducing SEP flux from the tailward direction. The results also indicate that the flux of SEPs from the dawnside of the magnetosphere can be focused into the current sheet, leading to a potential enhancement in SEP flux at the Moon. Particles traveling up the tail for both quiet and storm conditions tended to experience the greatest deflection away from the central tail.

The full paper is available
by subscription to the
Journal of Geophysical Research,

Forty years after Apollo 13 at KSC

Having barely survived the aftermath of the tank explosion resulting in the only aborted manned lunar landing, after swinging around the Moon and using their lunar module's descent rocket to accelerate their lifeboat configuration into a proper return trajectory, before encountering Earth's atmosphere at 40,000 kilometers per hour, the crew first undocked from the LM and then jettisoned the Service Module. Only then were they able to see how close their ordeal came to ending at the very start. The explosion had ripped away entire panels on the SM and warped the fragile superstructure. As they re-entered Earth's atmosphere it still remained to be seen whether the Command Module's heat-shield had been damaged. Though the scene above was described by the exhausted crew to anxious Houston, nearly a week passed after the crew of Apollo 13 was safe on the ground before the above picture was available to the world [NASA/Apollo 13].

Jason Rhian

It was called NASA’s “successful failure” and it marked one of the most trying points in the space agency’s history. Apollo 13 tested the resolve of NASA’s young engineers and astronauts as never before the heroic efforts of these space pioneers would go down to write NASA’s finest hour. Now, on the fortieth anniversary of the near-loss of the Apollo 13 crew, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is celebrating the safe return of the crew at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Apollo 13 saga began with the liftoff of the mighty Saturn V rocket at 13:13 p.m. (EDT) on April 11, 1970. Two days after launch, a command was given to stir the oxygen tanks and what followed was one of the most dramatic moments in manned spaceflight history. An explosion occurred and the crew and mission managers on the ground had to scramble to ensure the safe return of the crew. Through seat-of-the-pants flying and ingenious technical innovations, the crew was brought home safe and sound. To show how great an impact this mission had, to date it is the only Apollo mission to have a big-budget Hollywood movie made about it.

Not even Apollo 11 can make that claim.

Read the article HERE.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Just past First Quarter, Earth's Moon rises into a clear South American equatorial sky over the latest Ariane V, posed for launch [Janvier - EnjoySpace]

White House wants outsource of NASA work

Andy Pasztor
Wall Street Journal

The White House has decided to begin funding private companies to carry NASA astronauts into space, but the proposal faces major political and budget hurdles, according to people familiar with the matter.

The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the U.S. space program. The goal is to set up a multiyear, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system.

Read the full story HERE.

Friday, January 22, 2010

LROC: Pyroclastic Deposit

NAC Frame M111945148R. Part of the vast pyroclastic deposit near a Constellation Program Region of Interest located on the Aristarchus plateau is visible in this image. View is 537 m across [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Constellation Areas of Interest -
Aristarchus (2)

Lisa Gaddis
LROC News System

A typical view of the lunar surface? Hardly! This NAC frame (537 m across) reveals a dark, fine-grained pyroclastic deposit that has mantled older units, including flat mare deposits (at left) and nearby knobs of highland materials (at right). This site (Aristarchus 2) is located in the northwest region of the Aristarchus Plateau, within the most extensive deposit of pyroclastic materials on the Moon. The Constellation objectives here (Aristarchus 2) are more focused on resource potential, whereas Aristarchus 1 was selected more on the basis of geologic diversity.

At Aristarchus 2, some areas of the mantling deposit are estimated to be 10 to 20 meters in thickness. In the small area shown in the above image, the deposit is much thinner (likely only a meter or two deep). The bright-rayed crater at right-center (15 m diameter) has penetrated the mantle and exposed fresh, light-colored rocks typical of the lunar highlands. Many of the craters at left, although similar in size to the bright-rayed crater, have uncovered only dark materials that are slightly lighter in color than the pyroclastic mantle. Such exposures of rock by fresh craters provide some of the best clues to the composition and distribution of covered units and help to reconstruct the history of events that created the deposits we see.

Lunar pyroclastic deposits are formed by explosive eruption of basaltic magma and are thought to be associated with early stages of eruption of the mare deposits that fill impact basins across the near side. The deposits appear fine-grained and often very dark, and they have been called "mantling deposits" because they drape over and obscure underlying terrain. This mantling effect is similar to what you see after a deep snow: normally sharp edges of tables, chairs, and cars are now smoothed and subdued. The same effect happens under a blanket of fine ash.

Pyroclastic mantling deposits were sampled by the Apollo astronauts at several sites on the Moon, and in particular a deposit of submillimeter-sized orange glass and crystallized beads was discovered near Shorty Crater by Astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt in the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the Apollo 17 mission. The beads at Apollo 17 formed from magma that originated ~400 km deep within the Moon and erupted more than 3.6 billion years ago.

Pyroclastic deposits are fascinating to lunar scientists because of the possible economic and engineering value of the volatile and metallic elements identified on and within their component beads. The beads have trapped solar wind hydrogen and Helium-3, and enrichments of volatile elements such as sulfur, lead, fluorine and zinc have been measured on their surfaces. Pyroclastic deposits are typically rich in iron oxides and also have widely varying amounts of titanium oxide, commonly present as the mineral ilmenite. Areas with pyroclastic deposits are likely to feature prominently among future exploration sites on the Moon and are a key enabler for large-scale human lunar habitation. Thus, it is important that we learn as much as we can about them. Where are they, how thick are they, and do compositions vary within a deposit and from deposit to deposit?

For more information on LROC's observation campaign for the Constellation Program regions of interest read this Lunar and Planetary Science Conference abstract, and visit the LRO Science Targeting Meeting website (look for the baseball card summary sheets for each site: part 1, part 2).

Explore the rich resources of the Aristarchus plateau for yourself!

Digital Terrain Model of Orientale Basin

From Proclus impact survey debris survey using Google Moon

Does this coelis, south of Proclus, really exist? Or is it more likely an error in the Digital Elevation Model? A casual census of available LRO Narrow-Angle Camera adds evidence to both arguments for and against such features elsewhere, though not yet this particular 800 meters tall and 1200 meter wide, at the base, formation which seems to be just barely within the resolution of the Apollo 15 high-sun metric camera photography. Whether this particular anomalous feature really exists or not, before 2010 is over it is likely many such features will be discovered that were beyond earlier orbital surveys.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team at Arizona State University is owed a huge debt of gratitude for going above and beyond, literally, in sharing at least some of what has been discovered in unprecidented detail on the Moon by the LRO's narrow-angle camera (NAC).

LROC principal investigator Mark Robinson deserves some sort of Webby Award for sharing subsets of commission-phase LRO NAC imagery, particularly of the poles and eastern far side, hemisphere through the planetary data system. This test release has lunatics like us anxiously anticipating the Lunar and Planetary Conference in early March and the scheduled larger release of LRO data later that month.

It's hoped by that time the interested public and lunar science community will then be able to get a very long anticipated closer look at certain features on the Moon that have always been tantalizingly beyond the best resolutions.

Recently the LROC News System at Arizona State has begun sharing more of the Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) images, after redesigning their website, and this past week the team released something unexpected.

It appears the Laser Altimeter detail that will also soon be available from LRO will be complimented greatly by additional digital terrain modeling made possible by the LROC WAC. It's stunning, certainly, but still just hints at how our understanding of the Moon should soon match the true state of the art.

A Digital Terrain Model ("DTM") of the large Orientale Basin (1100 km diameter), located on the western hemisphere of the Moon, produced from stereo images obtained by LROC's Wide-Angle Camera. The image shows the hill-shaded, color-coded DTM with heights varying from approx. -4,700 meters to 9,400 meters. The small white boxes are areas without WAC coverage [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/ DLR].

Juergen Oberst
LROC News System

How was the Terrain Model created?

LROC's wide angle camera (WAC) has a ground resolution of approximately 100 m/pixel from LRO's nominal orbit altitude of 65 km and is taking image swaths 70 km wide along LRO's ground-track. Therefore, images from adjacent orbits show substantial overlap and strong stereo effects in the overlapping images.

Image overlap amounts to approximately 50% near the equator. Using sophisticated so-called "photogrammetric" techniques and computer software, a terrain model can be computed. Several hundred WAC images were combined to form this model. It is a subset of an almost global model, which is currently under construction and which will consist of more than 10,000 WAC images. This particular terrain model was produced using a software system that was originally developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR; English version) for the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the European Mars Express Mission.

Read the rest of the release HERE.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aldrin is 80

Ian O'Neill
Discovery News

On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin became the second man to set foot on the Moon, following mission commander Neil Armstrong. That historic moment was over 40 years ago. Today, Aldrin is celebrating another milestone, his 80th birthday.

Although the famous Apollo 11 mission was over four decades ago when NASA was in its infancy, Buzz continues to be very vocal in matters of human spaceflight. He is an outspoken critic of spaceflight policy and an expert in communicating all things space to the public.

INTERVIEW: Find out what Buzz had to say to Discovery News correspondent Irene Klotz during the Apollo 11 anniversary in July 2009.

Read the Interview HERE.

Space Shuttle demise hits Brevard County in Florida

Jerry Hart and Ryan Flinn

Laurilee Thompson says her Dixie Crossroads seafood restaurant near Florida’s Kennedy Space Center will lose $50,000 a year in tourist business after the space shuttle flies for the last time in September. She’s not the only taxpayer in Brevard County to feel pain.

Local unemployment climbed to almost 15 percent after Apollo lunar launches ended in 1972. Now Brevard, Florida’s 10th-most populous county, where per capita income is already 8.3 percent less than the state average, is bracing for another blow as the U.S. shifts to moon and Mars flights from orbital missions.

Contractors led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. will cut 7,000 Florida jobs, almost half the nationwide shuttle workforce that stretches to Alabama, Texas and California. Brevard, on the Atlantic coast, 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Orlando, got $1.8 billion of the $2 billion the space program injected into the state in 2008, according to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration report. County borrowing costs rose about 2 percent since November after some of its bonds were downgraded by Fitch Ratings on concern over rising unemployment and falling revenue.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Lisa Rice, president of Brevard Workforce, which administers the Aerospace Workforce Transition Program, a county retraining agency for shuttle employees facing dismissal. “You have the economy going down, the shuttle retiring and defense contracts decreasing.”

Read the feature article HERE.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LROC: The Cobra Head

Eastern slope (right to left is downhill) of the Vallis Schröteri, "Cobra Head". This feature is located in the western portion of a Constellation Program region of interest on the Aristarchus plateau. The slopes of the Cobra Head are boulder-rich and display albedo variations - bright to dark. The patterns of debris and flows on the slopes are evidence for mass-wasting and landslides that expose a variety of rocks. Image width is 3.7 km, pixel width is 0.51 meters, from NAC frame M111918050R [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Constellation Areas of Interest -
Aristarchus (1)

J. Stopar
LROC News System

The Aristarchus plateau has fascinated lunar observers since before the space age. Its odd shape and low and high albedo extremes immediately draw your attention. Superimposed on the plateau is a spectacular channel (or rille), and the very young Aristarchus crater (regional overview). Aristarchus crater is the largest impact crater on the plateau and is one of the highest reflectance (in fact, it is blindingly bright in a telescope) features on the Moon. The plateau itself is surrounded by the lava flows of Oceanus Procellarum, and the whole region has a high concentration of sinuous rilles.

The largest of these is Vallis Schröteri, which is also the largest sinuous rille on the Moon. Finally, the plateau is almost completely covered by one of the largest lunar regional pyroclastic deposits. Large pyroclastic deposits are a potential resource for useful elements like hydrogen, oxygen, iron and titanium. Thus, due to its geologic complexity and resource potential, the Aristarchus region is naturally of interest to the Constellation Program and future lunar missions.

The head of Vallis Schröteri, a feature also known as the "Cobra Head", consists of a deep pit, which is of great interest to scientists. The Cobra Head is thought to be the source vent of a tremendous outflowing of lava that flowed across the plateau and formed the rille. Exposed in this vent are lava flows, pyroclastic material, and small bits of white rocks. The white rocks are pieces of the underlying crust most likely composed of anorthositic (highland) rocks. Much of this material was excavated by the impact that formed Aristarchus Crater and was brought to the surface from great depths.

These white rocks may be of a unique crustal composition representing late-stage subterranean magmatic activity. Rocks that form last from a magma body often have rare compositions enriched in incompatible elements. The elements are labeled incompatible because they do not easily combine with other elements and thus concentrate in the last remaining melt. Therefore, the last rocks to freeze out of a magma have high levels of these incompatible elements. Sampling such rocks will provide insights into lunar magmatic evolution and the bulk composition of the mantle.

The Cobra Head of Aristarchus Plateau in full sunlight as seen by Hubble- part of a larger examination of the links between lunar albedo and the geologic composition of the Moon's surface completed from Earth orbit using the Hubble Space Telescope. One of the many reasons Aristarchus is the most reported location of transitory phenomena is the blinding reflection from relatively fresh materials uncovered by the impact that created nearby Aristarchis crater, by far the brightest part of the larger, rectangular Aristarchus formation [NASA, ESA and J. Garvin (NASA/GSFC)]

LROC Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic centered on the Aristarchus Plateau; the Cobra Head is indicated with white arrow, a small portion of the rim of Aristarchus crater is just visible on the lower right, "H" indicates center of Herodotus crater (35 km diameter). M111918011CE, 605 nm in red, 567 nm in green, 415 nm in blue, image width ~55 km, north is up.

NAC image M111918050R, centered at 24.82N, -49.12E, shows a portion of the eastern wall of the Cobra Head. These slopes are covered with boulders and debris that slid down the walls. The patterns on the slopes are evidence for downslope movement (landslides and/or creep). "Flow" is from right to left, with boulders accumulating in local "bars" such as the one in the center of the image. The slope is scoured by the movement of boulders. The rocks exposed in the rille exhibit large brightness contrasts, some being very dark
and others very bright.

What is the origin of the bright material? Some of the brightness is a function of steep boulder faces oriented towards the Sun. Even dark rocks such as basalt can exhibit bright Sun-facing facets. Most of the local material here is basaltic, having originated in the huge Cobra Head vent at the head of the 140-km long Vallis Schröteri. To the east (right) of this image is the Aristarchus Crater, which has some of the brightest ejecta of any crater on the Moon. Some of that bright ejecta material is among the boulders that have moved down this slope as the steep rim gradually collapsed over time.

Explore the Aristarchus (1) Constellation Program region of interest for yourself, and imagine what it would be like to look out over Vallis Schröteri, the Lunar Grand Canyon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

NASA applys low-cost lessons to LADEE

Horizon glow, as televised from north of Tycho by Surveyor 7 during a long lunar night in 1968, the first dramatic hint of many that the Moon's submicron dust made up a dynamic component of the lunar exosphere. The Apollo missions to the lunar surface would further demonstrate the challenge to lunar exploration safety presented by electrostatic dust whose origins are thought to be a direct result of the persentent "gardening" of the lunar surface by micrometeorite bombardment and radiation. The LADEE mission is designed to definitively determine those dynamics with a mission beginning in late 2012.

Michael Mecham
Aviation Week

NASA’s first use of a low-cost, modular spacecraft design will be put into an unusually low orbit of the Moon to sample its atmosphere and dust and create a profile that will be useful for studies throughout the Solar System.

The Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (Ladee) is still in the early days of mission and science planning but is booked for an Oct. 28, 2012, liftoff on an Orbital Sciences Minotaur V from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., space complex. It will be the debut of the five-stage solid propellant Minotaur V as a low-cost alternative for planetary missions.

Ladee is the first application of NASA Ames Research Center’s Modular Common Bus, a tiered satellite development program that aims for all-inclusive costs of as little as $50 million for simple missions (AW&ST Jan. 5, 2009, p. 32). With four tiers, Ladee is more complex than that; its budget is $200 million.

The project will rely heavily on the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and instruments approach that is basic to the low-cost/quick-build common bus concept.

The first contract has gone to Space Systems/Loral to build a propulsion system derived from its signature 1300-series communications satellite platform. Ladee will circle the Moon’s equator at a 5-deg. inclination at a nominal altitude of just 50 km. (31 mi.), lower than any previous lunar satellite’s planned orbit.

Read the article HERE.