Monday, February 2, 2015

LRO could remain in present orbit 7 or more years

Because the Moon is lumpy and uneven, it's possible nothing has ever been in close-orbit around our companion planet as long as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Certainly nothing built by humans. Few deep space missions have delivered as much return on their investment. The sheer volume of data returned by LRO exceeds all deep space missions ever launched combined, several times over [NASA/GSFC/SVS].


Noah E. Petro and John W. Keller
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Solar System Exploration Division

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been orbiting the Moon for over five years. In that time, data from the seven instruments onboard the spacecraft have made significant advances in our understanding of the Moon and its environment. In September 2014 LRO completed its first Extended Science Mission (ESM) and began a second ESM (ESM2). 

During the both ESM and ESM2, LRO has been in a quasi-stable, eccentric orbit of ~40 x 180 km with a periapse near the South Pole (Figure 1). This orbit enables high resolution measurements around the South Pole. 

The LRO Project is considering a maneuver in early 2015 to lower the periapse in order to further improve measurements over the South Pole, particularly by the LOLA instrument. Based on the current annual consumption of fuel, the spacecraft could remain in its current orbit for at least 7 more years.

FIGURE 1. Orbital history of LRO since arriving at the Moon in 2009. LRO now employs yearly station keeping (SK) maneuvers in order to maintain its orbit. There are also periodic momentum unload burns that use small quantities of fuel.
LRO Operations: As part of the approval for continued operations, LRO was directed by NASA HQ to terminate operations of the Mini-RF instrument. All of LRO’s remaining six instruments are operating nominally, and have experienced no significant degradation since beginning the ESM over two years ago.

During extended operations the LRO spacecraft has performed exceptionally well, with 98.4% uptime during the life of the mission. LRO retains sufficient fuel quantities so that its current orbit could be maintained for at least 8 years, if not longer.

LRO Science In ESM2: An overarching theme of ESM2 for LRO is that of change. A number of measurements have shown changes to the lunar surface and to its environment. LRO will focus on the five following themes that each build on prior observations from LRO, LADEE, GRAIL, and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper. Each theme has numerous questions that are address, an example few are given here.
  1. Transport of Volatiles. How are volatile elements and compounds distributed, transported, and sequestered?
  2. Contemporary Surface Change. What causes changes in the flux and intensities of meteoroid impacts onto terrestrial planets.
  3. Regolith Evolution. Characterize planetary surfaces to understand how they are modified by geologic processes.
  4. Probing the Interior from Observations of the Surface. Characterize planetary interiors to understand how they differentiate and evolve from their initial state
  5. Interactions with the Space Environment.  How is surface material modified exogenically? How do exospheres form, evolve, and interact with the space environment?
LRO Data: The LRO instrument teams will continue to deliver data to the PDS every three months. As of the beginning of 2015 over 575 Tb of data have been placed into the PDS [1]. This data volume contains a range of products, including higher level maps, mosaics, and derived products. The PDS has made available the Lunar Orbital Data Explorer [2], a mapbased tool to search for finding and downloading PDS science data of LRO as well as other recent lunar missions.

In addition to the PDS holdings, several of the LRO instrument teams have additional products and tools available on their websites (Table 1).

Several global map products have recently been added to the PDS, here we highlight a few that are new in the last year. The Mini-RF team has assembled a global mosaic of their monostatic measurements [3].

For the first time we have global radar data for the Moon, data that clearly shows variations in rock abundance and surface texture over both the near and farside (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2. Mini-RF global mosaic of the Circular Polarization Ratio (CPR), one of the number of Mini-RF mosaic products now available online.
The LROC team regularly adds new products to the PDS via the team webpage (Table 1), including shapefiles, global mosaics, NAC-derived DEM’s, and NAC mosaics of selected targets. Recently the LROC team has made available a number of anaglyphs (Figure 3) showcasing the ability of the LRO spacecraft and the LROC team to precisely target the NACs.

FIGURE 3. Red-Blue anaglyph of the central peak of Euler crater.  The LROC team has made a number of anaglyphs available on their website (Table 1).
The LAMP team has a number of polar products available, including FUV ratio maps of both poles (Figure 4). These following maps are available at a resolution of 240 meters per pixel; Lyman-α (119.57–125.57 nm), Long (130–190 nm), On-band (130–155 nm), Off-band (155–190 nm), H2O Absorption Feature Depth Maps made by a Ratio map of on/off band.

FIGURE 4. LAMP Lyman-α map of the South Pole. LRO has focused on volatiles at the South Pole since arriving at the Moon 5+ years ago.
Table 1. LRO teams and their websites

LRO Project









Use LRO Data!

The LRO Project has begun holding a series of data users workshops with the goal of helping the community work with the large volume of LRO data. Presentations given at the workshops are archived at the LRO website [4]. Questions regarding the access and use of LRO data can be directed to the authors of this abstract.

References:  [1] LRO PDS Archive, (
[2] Lunar Orbital Data Explorer, (
[3] Cahill, J. T. S., et al., (2014) Icarus, 243, 173-190.
[4] LRO Data Resources, (

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