Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chang'e-3 officially enters launch phase

Chang'e-2 soft lander deploys first lunar rover in nearly 40 years in this simulation shown on China national television [CNSA].
Zhu Ningzhu
From Xinhua   

"Chang'e-3 has officially entered its launch stage, following its research and manufacture period," said a statement released by the administration after Wednesday's meeting on the mission.

The mission will see a Chinese space probe land on a celestial body for the first time.

"The Chang'e-3 mission makes best use of a plethora of innovative technology. It is an extremely difficult mission, that carries great risk," said Ma Xingrui, head of China's space exploration body and chief commander of the lunar program.

LROC WAC Sinus Iridum Mosaic [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]
Sinus Iridum, the "Bay of Rainbows" embayment on the northwestern frontier of Mare Imbrium and likely target for the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976, by China's third unmanned lunar probe Chang'e-3 before the end of 2013. LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
The Chang'e-3 mission is the second phase of China's lunar program which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth, following the successes of the Chang'e-2 missions, which include plotting a high-resolution, full-coverage lunar map.

Chang'e-3's carrier rocket has successfully gone through its first test while the launch pad, control and ground application systems are ready for the mission.

Chang'e-3 will be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.

From the Register:

The Chang’e-3 probe, first revealed last year, is a 100kg, six-wheeled rover that will spend three months traversing the lunar landscape under human control. The spacecraft will use the Moon’s gravity to slow down, orbit the satellite, and then soft-land using rocket propulsion.

This will be the first time the Chinese have landed a spacecraft on a non-terrestrial surface and the Chang’e-3 will be a crucial test of both Chinese aeronautics and rocketry control systems. The rover will pave the way for a future manned mission to the Moon, and a possible space colony on the surface.

“The Chang’e-3 mission makes best use of a plethora of innovative technology. It is an extremely difficult mission, that carries great risk,” said Ma Xingrui, head of China’s space exploration body and chief commander of the lunar program.

The first Chang’e probe was launched 2007 and completed a 3D map of the Moon’s surface before being intentionally crashed into the planetoid. Chang’e 2, launched in 2010, carried out further mapping 100km off the Moon’s surface before being directed out to fly by the asteroid Toutatis and is now heading out into the Solar System.

Like NASA’s early rovers on Mars, the Chang’e-3 will be primarily solar powered and will carry a ground-facing radar on its belly capable of penetrating up to 30 meters into the lunar regolith, as well as a alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer.

China plans a manned mission to the lunar surface possibly as soon as 2017 – although he authorities aren’t setting themselves a Kennedyesque deadline and say they’ll go when they are ready. Once there, however, the Chinese government has said it plans to build the first manned lunar outpost, an objective NASA has already abandoned.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rough crater wall surface

Upper part wall inside an unnamed fresh crater in the southwestern quadrant of farside Hertzsprung basin. LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) observation M182038126L, LRO orbit 11934, January 24, 2012; 56.41° angle of incidence, resolution 1.08 meters per pixel from 107.13 km. Downslope is toward lower right, north is to the top [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Hiroyuki Sato
LROC News System

The opening image reveals the northwestern portion of the steep wall inside an unnamed young crater (6.8 km in diameter, the same crater in Tuesday's Featured Image). The upper left corner of this image, the relatively smooth part, corresponds to the outer gently sloping surface, and the rest of the image is the interior wall.

This steep surface displays very complicated forms, likely due original flow of impact melt down the walls, perhaps in places modified by small scale collapses. Several spots indicated with arrows show the contact between relatively smooth surface materials, probably impact melts, and sharp craggy edges. Are the smooth parts really impact melt? Or perhaps they are surfaces from which hardened impact melt slipped down. What we do know is that enormous amounts of impact melt were splashed around inside and outside the crater, a violent scene we can hardly imagine. New LROC data is unveiling the nature of impact melts through their shape, texture, distribution, quantity, and spectral reflectance.

LROC WAC M112461899C (604nm) 580x1000
The unnamed crater and surrounding areas in the LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) monochrome (604nm) observation M112461899C, spacecraft orbit 1707, November 10, 2009; 39.1° angle of incidence, resolution 86.97 meters per pixel, from 61.69 km over 7.25°S, 227.53°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Explore this fresh and complicated crater wall in full NAC frame, HERE.

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Sinuous Cracks
View From The Other Side
Craggy Peak, Impact Melts
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Tycho Central Peak Spectacular!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Debris over impact melt pool

Debris avalanche covering an impact melt pond inside an unnamed crater floor. From LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) M182038126R, LRO orbit 11934, January 24, 2012, centered on 4.135°S, 227.677°E, angle of incidence 56.58° over a field of view 1083 meters across, resolution 1.08 meters from 107.13 km. Downslope is toward upper right, north is to the top [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Hiroyuki Sato
LROC News System

Today's Featured Image highlights the southwestern edge of the floor of an unnamed crater (6.8 km in diameter), located in the SW corner of the degraded Hertzsprung basin (540 km diameter). The rough hummocky surface (upper right) corresponds to an impact melt pond, which covers the floor of this crater. The debris avalanches originated from the crater wall and covered the melt pond surface in the lower left. These debris deposits follow the topographic gap along a fracture extending to the lower right from the center of this image, indicating that the fracture formed before the avalanche.

The NAC frame as context for the LROC Featured Image (frame), showing the unnamed crater floor in Hertzsprung basin within a 3 km field of view [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Impact melt ponds usually develop fractures and deformations of their surfaces (e.g. Melt and more melt, Channels And Fractures). The cause and timescale of such modification is unclear and still under discussion (e.g. Ashley et al., 2012) but is likely due to the crater subsurface re-adjusting as the impact melt cooled and hardened. The shape of impact craters slowly evolves over long periods of time. Thanks to the relatively slow erosional processes on the Moon relative to the Earth, we can observe a series of craters from young to very old with NAC images, helping scientists understand the process of crater formation and subsequent modification. 

The unnamed crater and surrounding area in LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) monochrome mosaic (100 meter LROC Global Mosaic), centered on 4.02°S, 227.72°E. The NAC frame footprint and the location of Featured field of view are designated [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Explore the debris avalanche inside this young fresh crater in full NAC frame, HERE.

Related Posts:
More Impact Melt!
The View Inside of a Tilted Crater
Schiaparelli E
Channels And Fractures
Impact melt outside Wiener F
Rippled Pond
Melt and more melt
Color shaded LROC digital elevation model shows the small crater in starker contrast not readily visible in pure optical photography (arrow, right of lower center), in the ancient Hertzsprung basin and nearby Vavilov crater. 400 km field of view, orthographic projection from LROC WMS image search map [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

More water at lunar equator, hints of water below

Bullialdus Interior Oblique
Investigations of the central peaks (where the deepest material these kinds of craters excavate is deposited) of nearside equatorial crater Bullialdus (60.7 km, 20.7°S, 337.8°E) have detected rocks composed of magmatic water of a kind collected by Apollo using the NASA M3 radar instrument aboard the ISRO orbiter Chandrayaan-1. LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) oblique observation M1099038207LR, spacecraft orbit 14313, August 8, 2012; overall resolution 2.4 meters, angle of incidence 48.8° with spacecraft and camera slewed 63.4° west of nadir, 73.65 kilometers over 20.96°S, 331.93°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
NASA-funded lunar research has yielded evidence of water locked in mineral grains on the surface of the moon from an unknown source deep beneath the surface.

Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists remotely detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the moon's interior, on the surface of the moon.

The findings, published by letter, August 25, in Nature Geoscience, represent the first detection of this form of water from lunar orbit. Earlier studies had shown the existence of magmatic water in lunar samples returned during the Apollo program.

M3 imaged the lunar impact crater Bullialdus, which lies near the lunar equator. Scientists were interested in studying this area because they could better quantify the amount of water inside the rocks due to the crater's location and the type of rocks it held. The central peak of the crater is made up of a type of rock that forms deep within the lunar crust and mantle when magma is trapped underground.

"This rock, which normally resides deep beneath the surface, was excavated from the lunar depths by the impact that formed Bullialdus crater," said Rachel Klima, a planetary geologist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

"Compared to its surroundings, we found that the central portion of this crater contains a significant amount of hydroxyl - a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom -- which is evidence that the rocks in this crater contain water that originated beneath the lunar surface," Klima said.

LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) 100 meter per pixel mosaic of Bullialdus, an illustration for the post "Bullialdus Central Peak Oblique," January 23, 2013 [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
In 2009, M3 provided the first mineralogical map of the lunar surface and discovered water molecules in the polar regions of the moon. This water is thought to be a thin layer formed from solar wind hitting the moon's surface. Bullialdus crater is in a region with an unfavorable environment for solar wind to produce significant amounts of water on the surface.

"NASA missions like Lunar Prospector and LCROSS (the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) and instruments like M3 have gathered crucial data that fundamentally changed our understanding of whether water exists on the surface of the moon," said S. Pete Worden, center director at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Similarly, we hope that upcoming NASA missions such as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will change our understanding of the lunar sky."

Combined data for the Bullialdus area
Figure 5 from "One Moon, Many Measurements 3: Spectral reflectance," Science Direct (Icarus, Vol 226, #1, Sept.-Oct. 2013) Combined data for the Bullialdus area. (a) Location of available datasets of the Bullialdus region: gray scale base map, MI; red dots, SP traverses; blue shading, M3 scene width; light-blue dots, SIR-2 traverses. SP/M3/SIR-2 datasets within the white box are presented in this figure. The white box corresponds to the area shown in (b) and (c). TC data cover the entire area. Data included in Table 2 for SP are indicated in yellow, and those for SIR-2 are solid light blue. (b) M3 color-composite image. Band assignments are integrated band depth at 1 μm (red), integrated band depth at 2 μm (green), and 1.5 μm albedo (blue). A manual shadow mask has been applied, primarily on the west (left) crater wall. (c) MI color-composite image. Red denotes the continuum-removed absorption depth of 0.95 μm, green denotes that of 1.05 μm, and blue denotes that of 1.25 μm. (d) TC image of the central part of the Bullialdus central peak. (e) MI 750 nm-band image after photometric correction using local topographic information. (f) MI color-composite image of the center of the Bullialdus central peak. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

The detection of internal water from orbit means scientists can begin to test some of the findings from sample studies in a broader context, including in regions that are far from where the Apollo sites are clustered on the near side of the moon. For many years, researchers believed that the rocks from the moon were bone-dry and any water detected in the Apollo samples had to be contamination from Earth.

"Now that we have detected water that is likely from the interior of the moon, we can start to compare this water with other characteristics of the lunar surface," said Klima. "This internal magmatic water also provides clues about the moon's volcanic processes and internal composition, which helps us address questions about how the moon formed, and how magmatic processes changed as it cooled."

APL is a not-for-profit division of Johns Hopkins University. Joshua Cahill and David Lawrence of APL and Justin Hagerty of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona co-authored the paper.

NASA's Lunar Advanced Science and Engineering Program, the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) at Ames and the NASA Planetary Mission Data Analysis Program supported the research. NLSI is a virtual organization jointly funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate and NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, to enable collaborative, interdisciplinary research in support of NASA lunar science programs.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Astronaut's view of Maury and points south

Unusually low LROC NAC oblique of Maury crater and points immediately south
Swooping low over the Maury crater group, dominated by Maury crater (17km, 40.355°N, 41.768°E) in the northern foreground. Distances are deceiving over airless bodies, however.  The crater superimposed on the fault structure running east (left) to west through the south (top) of the full-size 8813 x 8187 pixel field of view is 90 km away from Maury. LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic M144361170LR, orbit 6408, November 14, 2010; solar illumination incidence angle in the area was 56.21° as the spacecraft  and camera were slewed 76° from nadir, 192 km north of Maury's center (Resolution varies from 1.6 to 9 meters per pixel, from 39.8 km over 43.46°N, 39.82°E) [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Maury crater - Chang'e-2
Context, medium resolution, low-angle illumination view of Maury and points south visible in the LROC NAC oblique mosaic. The 100 km-long dotted line running south from the top of the image correlates with the overlapping junction between the left and right frames seen up the middle of LROC NAC oblique mosaic M144361170LR. Chang'e-2 image and Clementine natural color matched up in Virtual Moon Atlas 6 [CNSA/CLEP].
Context for oblique LROC NAC mosaic of Maury
LROC WAC global mosaic, hemispheric context with the approximate field of view of Maury crater and vicinity visible in LROC NAC M144361170LR designated at center [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Oblique view of Karpinskiy floor fractures

Karpinskiy (oblique observation farside north)
LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) oblique of the north floor of Karpinskiy crater, (91.4 km, 72.609°N and 166.801°E). Crater floor fractures abound,, concentric to the crater wall, a 6-km diameter impact crater on the floor and a disrupted jumble of central peaks. LROC NAC oblique mosaic M1115742016LR, orbit 16656, February 17, 2013; 82.48° incidence angle, resolution (maximum, and at full resolution) 2.42 meters per pixel, from 174.1 km over 77.81°N, 129.88°E) [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Raquel Nuno
LROC News System

Today’s Featured Image is an oblique image of the northeastern rim of Karpinskiy crater, a floor-fractured crater centered at 72.609°N, 166.801°E.

We can see wall terraces, superimposed impact craters of many sizes, and floor fractures. Fractures on the Moon are observed in different places. They can be seen as long linear rilles formed as the crust is pulled apart, and inside of craters, like in today’s Featured Image. How do these fractures inside the crater form? Lunar geologists propose two major formation mechanisms for crater floor fractures: intrusive magmatic activity and viscous relaxation. Intrusive magmatic activity is the process by which magma rises beneath the crater floor, causing excess pressure to build up, pushing the crater floor up; this extension causes it to crack. Viscous relaxation occurs as the lunar crust attempts to reach isostatic equilibrium, which it lost during excavation of large amounts of material during the impact. The the original curved floor flattens and is pushed up, causing it to fracture.

Google Moon -Orbital Dynamics of LROC NAC M1115742016LR
The dynamics of LROC NAC observation M1115742016, full size image HERE.
Karpinskiy (farside north) oblique
Thumbnail view of one version of the full-resolution LROC NAC mosaic, showing the interior and surrounding older crater within which Karpinskiy is nested. Various resolutions are available HERE.
Gain an astronaut's eye view of Karpinskiy crater with the oblique NAC image, HERE.

Related Posts:
Numerov's Graben
Pull Apart - Grabens
It's the Moon's Fault

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Karpinskiy, superpositioned on the farside north

Karpinskiy WACGLD 100m
LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic overlaid with WAC and NAC-derived GLD100 color-coded digital elevation model. Karpinskiy crater is approximately 90 kilometers across and nested within the remains of an even larger and more ancient crater [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Raquel Nuno
LROC News System

Karpinskiy crater, at 72.609°N, 166.801°E and (officially 91.403 km) in diameter, rests within a larger and far older unnamed crater. How do we know which crater is older? Stratigraphic studies, or the study of superposition of rock layers (or in this case, craters), will help determine the relative ages of craters here. Geologists derive relative ages between geological features by observing how they overlap - young formations will always overlie older formations, and on airless bodies, such as the Moon and Mercury, this method becomes particularly useful. Without wind to erode its surface, only four factors affect the lunar surface: space weathering, impacts, tectonism, and volcanic resurfacing. With respect to today’s Featured Image, the Moon accumulates impact craters over time. From the cratering record we can investigate not only stratigraphic relationships (which crater formed first), but we can also derive a quantifiable measure, or crater density, to determine relative ages on the Moon.

Karpinskiy passes under Kaguya
The HDTV camera onboard Japan's lunar orbiter Kaguya (SELENE-1) anticipates a rising Earth in 2007, looking north toward the Moon's north pole as it passes ancient craters of the Farside Highlands Terrain, including Karpinskiy, nested in a much older crater, passing out of view at left, followed by Milankovic and Plaskett. View the full-size image HERE [JAXA/NHK/SELENE].
Today’s Featured Image is a great example for stratigraphic studies. The LROC WAC mosaic of Karpinskiy crater overlaid with the GLD100 color topography presents a clearer outline of the older crater (WAC mosaic below). The top portion of the image is black because the GLD100 product does not have coverage at that latitude (>79°N). Karpinskiy crater is located inside a much older, degraded crater that does not have a well-defined rim and is somewhat difficult to see in the WAC mosaic. Karpinskiy is younger because it superposes, or formed on top, of the unnamed older crater. There are younger craters superposed on the floor of Karpinskiy, that must have formed later and are therefore younger based on the relative age relationships. Thus, using stratigraphic relations we are able to derive a relative age for Karpinskiy, but what if we want to determine the absolute age? The number of craters that formed on Karpinskiy can be used to estimate its absolute age, however with such a small area the crater size frequency distribution absolute age estimate has a large uncertainty. To accurately determine the absolute age of Karpinskiy crater we have to go there and acquire samples of impact melt rock that we can radiometrically date!

Karpinskiy WAC superposition context
LROC WAC context image. Karpinskiy crater outlined in yellow, with the two neighboring craters to the north and east are Ricco, Milankovic and Milankovic E[NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Explore the full image, HERE.

Related Posts:
Absolute Time
Copernicus Crater and The Lunar Timescale
Dating an Impact

Monday, August 19, 2013

Oblique look deep into the heart of Lowell crater

Lowell (LROC oblique)
Oblique LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic of Lowell crater (62.65 km - 12.96°S, 256.58°E), super-positioned (or is it?) on the northeast quadrant of the Orientale basin. LROC NAC observations M1108918822R & L, spacecraft orbit 15696, November 30, 2012; angle of incidence 80.52° averaging 3 meters per pixel resolution (spacecraft and camera slew -62.35° from 91.55 km over 12.81°S, 262.88°) [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Named for the one and only Percival Lawrence Lowell (March 13, 1855 – November 12, 1916), popularizer of Mars lore in the late 19th century, and celebrated in part also by Clyde Tombaugh when he chose a name for "Pluto" in 1930, in the first two letters of that now "former planet's" Olympian moniker.
Looking north over Lowell and the northwest Orientale basin. LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) global mosaic draped on LOLA laser altimetry using NASA ILIADS application [NASA/GSFC/MSFC/ASU].
Related Posts:
Oblique views of Moon's highest and lowest places (October 3, 2012)
Impact melt lobes (April 12, 2012)

"Abandoned McDonald's" key to Lunar Orbiter legacy

August 15 (Bloomberg) -- In an installment of "Secret Valley" Bloomberg Businessweek's Ashlee Vance visits NASA's Ames Research Center (ARC) where a "forgotten McDonald's," nicknamed "McMoon's," serves as headquarters for the Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project (LOIRP), a donation-driven labor of love designed  to digitize and rescue the fifty year old photographic record of the Lunar Orbiter project (1966-1967) [Bloomberg].
View the Video (2:50) HERE. (HT: Keith Cowing)

Good things delivered in small packages

Mighty Eagle Aces Exam (NASA, International Space Station, 09/05/12)
Overcast skies didn't deter the "Mighty Eagle," flying high over the historic F-1 test stand and completing a milestone round of flight test objectives, September 5, 2012. One of two NASA robotic prototype landers, the vehicle was flown to an altitude of 30.48 meters and descended gently to a controlled landing during a successful free flight Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Nicknamed the "Mighty Eagle" after one of the characters in the popular "Angry Birds" game, the vehicle is a three-legged prototype,  that resembles an actual flight lander design. It is 1.219 meters high, 2.438 in diameter and, when fueled, weighs 317.5 kg. It's a, so-called, “green” vehicle, 90 percent fueled by pure hydrogen peroxide, guided by an onboard computer [NASA/MSFC].
Paul D. Spudis
The Once and Future Moon
Smithsonian Air & Space

Wanted: lander spacecraft to deliver payloads to the Moon.  Must be cheap and reliable.

NASA recently issued an “RFI” – a Request for Information – a method used by the agency to solicit concepts from various companies and gauge their ability to fulfill a future anticipated need.  In this case, the need is for a small robotic lander, one capable of delivering two classes of payloads to the lunar surface: small (from 30 to 100 kg) and medium (from 250 to 450 kg).

Probably focused near-term with the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction) payload, the intent of this RFI is to survey existing capabilities for the commercial delivery of a variety of payloads to the Moon.  RESOLVE is a NASA experiment designed to test and demonstrate some techniques of in situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the Moon, specifically the generation of oxygen and the extraction of volatile elements (such as hydrogen) from lunar soil.  The RESOLVE package consists of several highly integrated experiments designed to collect soil on the Moon, heat this feedstock to various temperatures and measure the amount and type of volatile elements released, and practice some techniques of processing the soil into useful products (such as water or oxygen).

Though we’ve been talking about using off-planet resources for years, this is the first time the agency would fly an experiment designed to evaluate the processes and difficulties involved.  Some of us contend that until it is proven possible (by demonstrating it in space), space-based resource utilization (ISRU) will remain classified as “too risky” to incorporate into an architecture.  Engineers don’t doubt the chemistry or physics behind ISRU, but to evaluate risk and return, they want demonstrations using real hardware versus theoretical concepts and paper studies.

Although it will not answer all ISRU questions, RESOVLE can provide useful data and would be an important milestone.  Our ignorance is particularly vast in regard to the nature of the polar volatile deposits.  Some near-polar sites are under consideration for RESOLVE, but because the lander must be able to communicate with Earth, sites near the poles must be in radio view of Earth.  This eliminates the most promising polar volatile sites (permanently dark, out of radio sight) from consideration, at least for the first mission.  However, we know that water ice occurs in some areas in view of Earth, so careful targeting will permit us to get ground truth for a critical area near the one of poles.

There are a wide variety of possible payloads (scientific and resource utilization) for lunar missions using small landers.  A key priority for the lunar science community has been the deployment of a global network of geophysical instruments.  Such a package would include a seismometer (to monitor and measure moonquakes), a heat flow probe (to take the Moon’s temperature) and other instruments, such as a magnetometer and a laser reflector.  The five-station surface network laid out during the Apollo missions was operational for more than 7 years and gave us a first-order understanding of the nature of the deep lunar interior.  A new global network – widely spaced and operating longer with more stations – would vastly improve on that knowledge.

The success of a network mission necessitates a long-lived power source to operate instruments during the very cold, 14-day lunar night (the Apollo network used nuclear power supplies), along with an inexpensive way to deploy the network stations.  New technologies have developed small, reliable radioisotope generators that operate for many years.  A small lander could deliver geophysical stations across the entire globe; each station is low mass, so the smaller (and presumably cheaper) the lander, the more likely that this mission will be realized.  A global seismic network would decipher the crust and mantle structure of the Moon and could monitor its surface for large impacts.  A precise measurement of lunar heat flow (measuring the abundance of radioactive elements in the Moon) will give us more information about the bulk composition of the Moon and advance our understanding of lunar origin.  Laser ranging will also be useful in addressing some critical geophysical and astrophysical problems.

Project Morpheus vehicle "Morpheus Bravo," executes a successful tether test August 7, 2013 at Johnson Space Center. The combined Morpheus/JPL team met all their objectives including engine ignition, ascent, a 3 meter lateral translation over simulated Mars regolith simulant from JPL to help with plume study, 40 seconds of hover at apex and a slant descent to "landing" using free flight guidance. The entire flight duration was around 80 seconds. All though the Mars surface simulant was not typical for Morpheus test fires, it "sure made for a spectacular show"

Single-point landers, making simple measurements, can investigate the surface composition and geology at select landing sites.  If the landing sites and investigations are carefully chosen, they could significantly advance science by answering key questions.  For example, a critical issue in the cratering history of the Moon is knowledge of the absolute age of some of the youngest craters on the Moon.  The formation of the crater Copernicus marks a key time horizon in lunar history (the Copernican Period).  We know its relative age very well but are uncertain about its absolute age.  A small lander can be sent directly to the crater floor, where the impact melt is exposed and accessible, to analyze crater melt rocks for chemical composition and to learn the nature of the impact target (as well as determining the age of the rock by measuring the radiogenic potassium and argon in the rock). Although the potassium-argon technique is not the most precise method of radiometric dating, it can distinguish among the different proposed absolute ages, which vary over a billion years.  By determining this age more precisely, we will better understand the impact flux in the Earth-Moon system, knowledge that will help us better interpret the surface ages of units on other terrestrial planets.

Small landers could deliver a variety of long-lived assets for future surface operations and resource utilization experiments.  Techniques for making oxygen from lunar soil have been proposed but no comparative demonstration has been done on the Moon.  A small laboratory could be send to the Moon to conduct simultaneous experiments on oxygen manufacture.  The advantage of this experiment would be the use of identical feedstock under identical thermal and time constraints to compare their relative efficacy and identify any problems.  This experiment would fit on a small lander (~ 50 kg capacity) and by using solar power, within the span of a single lunar day (2 weeks) could quickly complete its evaluation.

The larger version of the RFI lander opens up other possibilities.  With a payload capacity on the order of 500 kg, this lander could deliver an advanced, automated surface rover (powered by an RTG – nuclear battery) able to undertake extensive and protracted exploration of the polar cold traps.  Equipped with instruments utilizing well established technology, this rover would characterize the physical, chemical and isotopic make up of the polar volatiles – a task critical for mapping the extent and purity of deposits of water ice on the Moon, and evaluating their mining and extraction potential.

The Canadian Space Agency test platform Artemis, Jr. fitted with NASA's RESOLVE instrument package, Day 3 of field testing on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i, July 2012 [CSA].
At this scale, it’s possible to deliver an ascent vehicle to the Moon to retrieve and return samples to Earth.  Scientists have a long list of desired targets for sample return and the potential for low cost, commercial landers to deliver payloads simply and inexpensively to the Moon could revolutionize our understanding of the Moon’s (and Earth’s) history and processes.  From remote sensing data, we know that many fascinating areas on the Moon display rocks either unrepresented or unrecognized in the existing collections from the American Apollo, Soviet Luna, and lunar meteorite samples.  Samples from the oldest impact feature on the Moon – the floor of the South Pole-Aitken basin – are especially desired.  Although a simple “grab” sample won’t answer all of our questions, rocks from this site could address major questions about the bombardment history of the Moon and the early Earth.

Small lander spacecraft will open up new horizons for science and exploration.  Critical to their success is making them simple, robust and inexpensive.  That’s been a tall order for NASA.  Whether the commercial sector can provide this capability more effectively remains to be seen.

Related Posts:
CHONDROBOT-2: Simple, Efficient Semi-Autonomous Lunar Excavator (January 4, 2013)
Technical Readiness (November 17, 2012)
Marshall's new-generation lunar lander flies again (September 11, 2012)
Update: ISRU mission simulations on Hawai'i (July 30, 2012)
'A RESOLVE to mine the Moon' (July 15, 2012)
KSC shows off RESOLVE, ISRU and lunar analog study platform (June 13, 2012)
Mighty Eagle lander's 100 foot flight at Redstone (November 4, 2011)
New Robotic Lander Prototype skates tests (January 29, 2011)
NASA update: ILN Anchor Nodes and Robotic Lunar Lander Project (August 17, 2010)
Field testing of In-Situ Resource Utilization (July 1, 2010)
The Lunar Quest Program and the International Lunar Network (September 6, 2009)
Spotlight on Carnegie-Mellon's SCARAB (April 10, 2009)

Originally published August 17, 2013 at his Smithsonian Air & Space blog The Once and Future Moon, Dr. Spudis is a senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. The opinions expressed are those of the author but are better informed than average

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ISRO Chandrayaan-2 will go without Roscosmos

India's follow-up to its highly successful first lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-2, together with a small remotely-operated rover landed on the Moon by a Russian spacecraft, had previously been delayed to 2013 and 2016 [ISRO/IKI].
P. Sunderarajan
The Hindu

"Chandrayaan 2 was originally envisaged to be a joint mission between ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos....Following the failure of the Russian-led interplanetary mission, Phobos-Grunt, a sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, the Russian agency reviewed their inter-planetary missions and decided to increase the mass of the moon lander...The Russian agency consequently suggested to ISRO two opportunities for launching of its Chandrayaan 2 rover - either 2015 or 2017 aboard Soyuz, the Russian spacecraft with a rider that the 2015 opportunity could involve mass limitation for the rover and entitle a higher risk....In the wake of these inputs, the ISRO conducted a high level review of the Chandrayaan 2 programme under the chairmanship of Prof. U.R.Rao. The study recommended that India could itself realise a lander module in a few years and that it could go in for the mission on its own."

Read the stories HERE, HT to ""

Fresh crater in the farside Saenger crater group

Fresh, unnamed crater in the farside Saenger crater group
A very fresh 3.2 km crater, with a bright, wide-ranging ejecta field, unusual melt erosion and ponding on its floor, blasted into a ridge in the Saenger crater group;  where the farside highlands begin, beyond the Moon's eastern limb at 4.579°N, 101.129°E.

Because it's nested on the northeastern side of a broad ridge, trending from southwest to northeast this very youthful crater's southeastern wall, rising 1180 meters above the level floor far below, is twice the height or more than its northwestern opposite.. Landslides of very fine materials run down the higher walls while the northwest is dominated by melt-carved ravines and boulders either draped with, or entirely composed of, dark melt and melt-fused composites.

There is also a hint of darker materials excavated in thin streams in the crater's ejecta immediately encircling its rim. The crater, which eventually deserves a name, is shown above in a 5.5 km-wide field of view from LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic M167539260LR, spacecraft orbit 9824, August 9, 2011; 46° angle of incidence, resolution 61 centimeters per pixel from 59.58 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Heading east, following the equator, the high elevations distinctive to the Moon's farside, come into their own beyond the vast swirl fields of Mare Marginis. The 3.2 km crater immediately east of center in this field of view is nested in a wide ridge with an origin deeper in the distant past history of lunar morphology than Saenger crater, partly visible on the right. LROC Quick Map GLD100 DEM [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
The global medium-resolution mosaic swept up by the PRC's Chang'e-2 (2011), under full illumination of a high Sun, offers good appreciation for the scope of the unnamed crater's ejecta rays system. This area is missing from Clementine (1994) albedo maps [CLEP/CNSA].
Some Related Posts:
Convergence (August 8, 2013)
Melted Moon (July 31, 2013)
The view inside a tilted crater (July 23, 2013)
Complicated Crater (June 19, 2013)
"Ka Pow!" on Joliot's central peaks (June 18, 2013)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Partially flooded crater rim near Rimae Prinz

Partially filled crater (1.8 km diameter) located in the Rimae Prinz region, centered at 26.941°N, 316.871°E, LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) observation M1096772216L, LRO orbit 13996, July 12, 2012; 68.58° angle of incidence, 1.36 meters per pixel resolution from 139.45 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Raquel Nuno
LROC News System

Today’s Featured Image is a remnant of an unnamed crater located in the Rimae Prinz region of Oceanus Procellarum. Since geologists use the term crater to describe any hole in the ground, the term crater is further differentiated by its formation mechanism.

Craters on the Moon were formed either by volcanic activity (explosion or collapse) or impacts (asteroids and comets). What clues can be found for this degraded crater that may reveal its formation mechanism?

First check for a raised rim; craters formed by an impact have a raised rim because material is excavated and projected outward and the substrate is uplifted, whereas those formed by volcanic activity typically do not have a raised rim.

Topography across the flooded crater. The green line is the path that corresponds with the elevation points on the plot. The crater does not have an elevated rim diagnostic of an impact crater. Vertical axis is the elevation value in meters, and the horizontal axis is the distance along the path in kilometers. Elevation values acquired from the LROC GLD100 model [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
The LROC GLD100 model provides a way to inspect the topography along the crater exterior, rim and interior (the green line in the image above). In this case there is no elevated rim, suggestive of a volcanic origin.

Another clue is that the Rimae Prinz region has many known volcanic features such as sinuous rilles and pit craters. The lack of a raised rim, and the surrounding volcanic features, is certainly consistent with a volcano-tectonic collapse origin, later partially flooded with mare basalt from a nearby vent. Or perhaps this crater was a vent itself, and its final eruptions nearly filled it up. A full understanding of how this feature formed may require an on-site investigation.

LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) context image of the Rimae Prinz region. The crater of interest is marked with an arrow [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Explore the full NAC HERE, perhaps other clues to the origin of this buried crater can be located nearby.

Related Posts:
Brayley G
Rimae Prinz Region - Constellation Region of Interest
Lunar Kipuka
Rilles as far as the eye can see in Prinz!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Follow up on concentricity in Apollo basin

Oblique view of an unnamed but prominent 12 km-wide concentric crater in the Apollo Basin, centered on 30.757°S, 205.931°E. Spacecraft and camera were slewed eastward off nadir 57.74° from 76.2 km over 31°S, 200.62°E, LROC NAC mosaic M1097537923LR, spacecraft orbit 14102, July 21, 2012; resolution roughly 2 km in the original [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Raquel Nuno
LROC News System

The May 22, 2013 Featured Image showed a portion of an unnamed concentric crater located in the Apollo Basin. Today’s Featured Image is a spectacular oblique (58° from vertical) view of that same crater.

Lunar geologists find craters useful in investigations because they tell so much about the geological history of the Moon. Craters reveal structural properties below their surface and the relative ages of the surfaces where they formed. How can looking at a hole in the ground be so insightful?

Combining imaging with numerical modeling and laboratory experiments, we can test how different structural properties beneath craters affect their shape and size, and even derive information about the direction of the impactor that formed the crater. Crater counting lets us estimate how long a surface has been exposed; more craters indicate an older surface. While insightful, these techniques do not conclusively describe the formation mechanism for all observed crater shapes. That is the case for concentric craters such as the one in today’s post, an unnamed 11.5 km concentric crater located in the Apollo Basin, centered at 30.757°S, 205.923°E. Concentric craters have an inner rim whose formation mechanism is not yet entirely understood, but the concentric mounds may indicate that there is a discontinuity, such as layers with different strengths, in the subsurface excavated by the impact.

LROC WMS (Quick Map) Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic of the 11.5 km concentric crater (center), in context with north and northwestern Apollo basin. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Craters are beautiful landscapes depicting the violent impact history of the moon, but are also a reminder of how human ingenuity can unravel the formation mechanisms of geological features on other worlds. As is the case for concentric craters, some of nature’s mysteries require on-site human and robotic investigations to fully understand them.

LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC)-derived global elevation model, hemisphere centered on the equator and 240° east meridian. The Apollo basin, in context inside the rim of 4.26 billion year old South Pole Aitken basin, is at bottom left, site of deep craters - many named in honor of Americans famed for their contributions to lunar exploration - may have excavated samples of the Moon's primeval crust. The Orientale basin, southeast of this view's center, marks the western limb of the Moon's nearside [NASA/GSFC/ASU/DLR],

Investigate and zoom into the full resolution LROC-processed NAC frame, HERE.

Related Posts:
Concentricity in Apollo Basin (May 22, 2013)
Concentric crater (Gruithuisen K - August 4, 2010)
LOLA's Apollo Basin (April 24, 2010)
Apollo Basin: Mare in a Sea of Highlands (March 30, 2010)
"Biggest, deepest crater," an excavation of the hidden, ancient Moon (March 6, 2010)

An unexpected transit

Rafaello Lena, of the GLR Group in Rome passes along this serendipitous interruption of his efforts to record Earth atmosphere-grazing Perseid meteors and perhaps another lunar impact, captured at 1945 UT, Monday, August 12 . An aircraft, and easily "identified flying object," transits the evening Moon. Still 40 hours shy of its Quarter phase, the Moon was 377,200 km away as the terminator swung over central Mare Serenitatis and the Southern Highlands, sunrise over the 1972 landing site of Apollo 16.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


A striking young Moon, only 2.35 days past New, only 5.5 percent illuminated by the Sun, the remainder in earthshine, brought out with exceptional artful detail. The target was 399,215 km away and slowing as its approaches perigee at roughly a kilometers per minute [Maurice Collins/Moon Science].

Friday, August 9, 2013

Small impact on the Moon observed from three locations

Simultaneous observation of the impact of a "small meteoroid" on the Moon, north of Mare Crisium, 0221:55.7 GMT, 1 August 2013, captured at the same moment by three observers using three telescopes in Switzerland, 10 km apart, and a fourth telescope in Rome 558 km away.  Observations by Raffaello Lena (GLR Group, Rome), using a 130 mm refracting telescope equipped with a Mintron video camera,  Andrea Manna (Cugnasco, Switzerland), with a 200 mm Schmidt Cassegrain equipped with a Watec 120N+ - and by Stefano Sposetti  (Gnosca, Switzerland) using two telescopes, a 150 mm refractor and an 11" Schmidt Cassegrain, each equipped with Watec 902H2  cameras.
Raffaello Lena, of the GLR Group in Rome, has documented the simultaneous observation of the exceedingly transitory flash of an impact on the Moon by three observers, using four telescopes equipped with CCD cameras, from three separate locations.

"On  August 1, 2013 at 02:21:55.7 UT, we observed a small meteoroid impact on the Moon's surface. The kinetic energy transformed into heat caused a brief and intense flash detected simultaniously in telescopes operated by R. Lena, A. Manna and S. Sposetti.

"The simultaneity of the flash observations, at the same position on the lunar surface strongly indicate the flash is unlikely to be mistaken for anything other than an impact."

The event was recorded by Raffaello Lena in Rome Italy, Andrea Manna in Cugnasco, Switzerland, and by Stefano Sposetti in Gnosca, Switzerland. The two observatories in Switzerland were separated by 10 km while Lena in Rome was 558 km from Gnosca.

The meteoroidal lunar impact detected on August, 1, 2013 at 02:21:55.7 UT was simultaneously recorded by  four independent video recordings. The duration of the flash corresponds with 0.08 seconds peaked in a brightness of 8.3 ± 0.7 magnitude. Synchronicity of the documenting images and related files was verified using GPS time inserters (KIWI-OSD) and an Atomic Clock Synchronization protocol.

The coordinates of the flash were determined to 73° (± 4°) East, 27° (± 3°) North, near the crater Seneca C.

"The flash probably corresponds to an α-Capricornids meteor stream, exhibiting favorable geometry at time of impact."

A report of the coordinated observing session is published in Selenology Today, HERE, and an Adobe pdf file with the particular of the event and observing session can be also downloaded HERE.

In addition, Lena reports, "some animations and data, are also presented on my website: ."

Small impact near Seneca C, 1 August 2013
The phase of the Moon at the time the impact was observed at three locations on Earth, 0221.55 UT, August 1, still a considerably bright 29.7 percent illumination from a Moon, 23.63 Earth-days old in the early predawn. At time of impact, still late July 31 in North America, the Moon was 405,528 km distant [Virtual Moon Atlas v.6].
Related Posts:
Earth's Nightlight (June 26, 2013)
March of Time Paces Changes on the Lunar Surface (May 21, 2013)
Brightest impact recorded by NASA lunar monitoring program, March 17 (May 17, 2013)
LROC team identifies a new lunar crater (July 28, 2010)
Lunar meteor impact observations and the flux of kilogram-sized meteoroids (July 25, 2010)
The Lunar Geminids (December 10, 2009)
Impact Gap in the Moon's Southern Highlands? (May 22, 2008)