water detector on U.S. lunar orbiter
The aim of the mission is to map the Moon’s surface
A Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) readied at the
Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
has been sent to the U.S. to be installed on the American
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), scheduled for launch in
2009. The aim of the mission is to map the Moon’s surface.
The task of the Russian device is to look for hydrogen and
hydrogen-bearing compounds, above all frozen water, in the
A companion event will be the “impacting” of the Moon to produce
fresh information on the Earth’s natural satellite, and seek
water resources, presumably of cometary origin. The launch
vehicle and the instrument container will impact the Moon.
A similar technique was used in 2005 when scientists made
a study of the Tempel-1 comet, into which a copper impactor
weighing 369 kg was manoeuvred. Crashing into the comet at
a speed of 170 metres a second, it gouged a crater the size
of a football field and several dozen meters deep. The impact
released energy equivalent to the explosion of 5 tonnes of
TNT and caused the comet to eject a huge cloud of matter.
This matter was analysed by instruments from the Deep Impact
Impacting is harmless for comets or the Moon. The Moon experienced
the first effect of the kind in September 1959, when the Soviet
Luna-2 probe crashed into it, or rather two separate machines
crashed into it — the probe’s instrument package and the last
stage of the launch vehicle. A dark round spot several kilometres
across that erupted four seconds after the fall spread out
to 40 km as observers watched. The results of the observation
proved interesting but were never understood by astronomers.
Later, each abortive mission of lunar probes resulted in a
hard landing on the Moon. But no special studies were made
of their effects, or of the substances that were thrown up.
Lacking an atmosphere of its own, the Moon is constantly bombarded
with solar wind and cometary or meteoritic particles. Near
its southern pole there is an impact-formed crater, perhaps
the largest of any in the Solar System.
The main aim of the NASA experiment is to validate a theory
that the Moon may contain water, first voiced in 1998. Observations
from artificial satellites have suggested that at least lenses
of frozen water are imbedded in some craters around the poles,
shadowed from the sun.
The Moon is the immediate possible next stage of human expansion
in the universe and could be the first to host extra-terrestrial
bases with an engineered environment. Future colonists will
need both water and its components: oxygen and hydrogen, the
former for breathing and the latter as rocket fuel, combined
with oxygen. If water supplies are found on the Moon, there
will be no need to deliver them from the Earth, and colonisation
will be easier.
The search for water on the Moon is also important to understand
the evolution of the Solar System. The most likely scenario
is one in which water would collect in beds as comets fall
on the moon. Each bed would chronicle a succession of cometary
impacts over a billion or more years. This study would make
it possible to trace the history of the system since its inception.
One theory is of life having arrived on the Earth from space,
brought by comets. A study of lunar cometary “leftovers” could
yield fresh evidence favouring this view.
The impacting has been suggested by scientists from the Ames
Research Centre in California. The idea of the project, code-named
Blue Ice, is to use the reserve capacity of the Atlas-5 launch
vehicle (its first stage is powered by the Russian RD-180
engine) to orbit a small additional research probe filled
with optical, spectral and other equipment at the same time
as the Lunar Orbiter. The probe is named the Lunar Crater
Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS.
A distinctive feature of the Blue Ice craft is that the Russian-made
LEND probe will do preliminary reconnaissance to determine
the area of the most likely occurrence of water. It is into
this region that the Centaur stage will smash.
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