Friday, August 31, 2012

Characterisation of Potential Landing Sites for the European Space Agency's Lunar Lander Project

Figure 5.Map of the South Polar Region based on a LOLA DEM, with the locations of the Regions of Interest analyzed in this study. Isolines (circles) are every degree of latitude.
This article describes the characterization activities of the landing sites currently envisaged for the Lunar Lander mission of the European Space Agency.

arXiv:1208.5587v1 [astro-ph.EP]

These sites have been identified in the South Pole Region (-85{\deg} to -90{\deg} latitude) based on favorable illumination conditions, which make it possible to have a long-duration mission with conventional power and thermal control subsystems, capable of enduring relatively short periods of darkness (in the order of tens of hours), instead of utilizing Radioisotope Heating Units. The illumination conditions are simulated at the potential landing sites based on topographic data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), using three independent tools.

ESA Lunar Lander project still on-track for 2018 (July 2012)
Risk assessment of the identified sites is also being performed through independent studies. Long baseline slopes are assessed based on LOLA, while craters and boulders are detected both visually and using computer tools in Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) images, down to a size of less than 2 m, and size-frequency distributions are generated. Shadow hazards are also assessed via LROC images. 

The preliminary results show that areas with quasi-continuous illumination of several months exist, but their size is small (few hundred metres); the duration of the illumination period drops quickly to less than one month outside the areas, and some areas present gaps with short illumination periods. Concerning hazard distributions, 50 m slopes are found to be shallow (few degrees) based on LOLA, whereas at the scale of the lander footprint (~5 m) they are mostly dominated by craters, expected to be mature (from geological context) and shallow (~11{\deg}). 

The preliminary conclusion is that the environment at the prospective landing sites is within the capabilities of the Lander design. 

Figure 10. LQCIP map for the six best RoI’s, with RoI name and geodetic coordinates (in the Mean Earth/Polar Axis reference system). Colour-code is in days, height above the surface is 2 m, filter for short darkness periods is 60 hours, filter for short illumination periods is 10 hours, and year is 2019. The spacing is 40 m. X, Y coordinates are in polar stereographic projection.

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