Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New study answers lunar exploration concepts outlined by National Research Council in 2007

A highly resampled oblique view of the vent formation within Schrödinger basin, in the far south of the lunar far side. The basin represents a relatively new formation the excavation of which appears to have uncovered rich detail of earlier lunar morphology. LROC NAC observation M121415248LR [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
A significant lunar landing site study released Monday, by the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration, addresses priorities set out in 2007 in a very influential report released by the National Research Council's Space Studies Board, The Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon.

Over a five year period, eight summer study groups researched our present understanding of the Moon, including voluminous new data returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) since 2009, and addressed central concepts outlined by the National Research Council in 2007 in a detailed report entitled A Global Lunar Landing Site Study to Provide the Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon.

Co-editors David A. Kring and Daniel D. Durda made their announcement online, Monday, November 26.

“The Moon is still largely unexplored. The work captured here will hopefully point mission planners to the most productive science and exploration sites on the Moon. We are ready to get back on the surface of the Moon and spark another era of discovery.

“As this study unfolded, it became clear the Apollo landing sites, while completely re-shaping our understanding of the solar system 50 years ago, represent only a tiny fraction of the lunar surface. Other sites can reveal completely new details of lunar history and are, arguably, better sites for addressing the fundamentally important issues identified in the NRC (2007) report The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon.

“This study asked a simple question, where on the lunar surface could the objectives in the 2007 report? Maps keyed to each of those objectives were created and, when those maps were stacked, several lunar surface locations popped out as the scientifically-richest landing sites.

Citing a few examples of highlights from the report, Kring wrote, “Schrödinger basin, on the lunar far side and within the ancient South Pole-Aitken basin, is the location where the largest range of objectives can be addressed. 

Very small scale laser altimetry (LOLA)-based topography shows the Schrödinger basin region of interest, and the Amundsen basin, in context with Shackleton crater and the lunar South Pole [NASA/LMMP].
For studies of polar volatiles, including water ice, Amundsen basin may be a better target than Shackleton crater. “But to truly resolve all of the NRC (2007) objectives,” wrote Kring, “ global access to the Moon is required.”

The report identifies a huge number of other productive landing sites across the lunar surface. "Not surprising," Kring wrote, "some favorites from the past, like Mare Orientale, appear in the report, but some surprises also emerged."

The study is available online, in Adobe Reader format at http://www.lpi.usra.edu/nlsi/CLSE-landing-site-study/

FIGURE 4.25 (Science Concept 4 Discussion) Amundsen Crater interior, showing (Permanently Shadowed Regions PSRs - dark blue), sites where all five Science Concept 4 Science Goal can be met (light blue), proposed landing sites (stars), and proposed science stations (circles). Radii of 10 and 20 km from the landing sites are shown as solid and dashed lines, respectively. Temperatures  within parts of the local PSR are never higher than 54°K - Base map is LRO/WAC/LOLA shaded relief.
The report is the product of an immense amount of work by eight student teams working through the Lunar and Planetary Research Institute and Johnson Space Center Lunar Exploration Summer Intern Program. These students had the technical skills to digest the scientific and exploration concepts, define the lunar surface requirements those concepts imply, process relevant spacecraft and sample data, and then produce maps of suitable landing sites.

Seven of the teams examined Concepts I through VII in the NRC's 2007 report.  Prompted by NASA, an eighth team took a closer look at the South Pole-Aitken basin to determine which objectives could be addressed within there. Teams did not evaluate Concept VIII in the 2007 report because it should soon addressed by the LADEE spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2013.

"The report is released with a single caveat," according to Kring. "The results represent a series of summer studies and are not intended to provide final detailed descriptions of landing sites. Still, this landing site study provides a comprehensive and global assessment of the NRC's 2007 science goals for the exploring the Moon.

"It is an excellent foundation for more detailed studies once specific missions are being planned."

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