Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
LRO spacecraft, artist's rendering
|Mission type||Lunar orbiter|
|Mission duration||Elapsed: 6 years and 14 days
Primary mission: 1 year
Extended mission 1: 5 years
Extended mission 2: under assessment
|Launch mass||1,846 kg (4,070 lb)|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||June 18, 2009, 21:32:00UTC|
|Rocket||Atlas V 401|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral SLC-41|
|Contractor||United Launch Alliance|
|Periselene||30 km (19 mi)|
|Aposelene||216 km (134 mi)|
|Orbital insertion||June 23, 2009|
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric 30 by 180 km (19 by 112 mi) polar mapping orbit. The LRO mission is a precursor to future human and robotic missions to the Moon by NASA. To this end a detailed mapping program will identify safe landing sites, locate potential resources on the Moon, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology.
The probe will make a 3-D map of the Moon's surface and has provided some of the first images of Apollo equipment left on the Moon. The first images from LRO were published on July 2, 2009, showing a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds).
Launched on June 18, 2009, in conjunction with the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), as the vanguard of NASA's Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, this is the first United States mission to the Moon in over ten years. LRO and LCROSS are the first missions launched as part of the United States's Vision for Space Exploration program.
The total cost of the mission is reported as US$583 million, of which $504 million pertains to the main LRO probe and $79 million to the LCROSS satellite.
Developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, LRO is a large (1,900 kg/4,200 lb) and sophisticated spacecraft planned to fly in a lunar polar orbit for a mission of one Earth year. An extended phase of the mission of five years provided a communications relay to other lunar missions. A second extended mission is under consideration.
After completing a preliminary design review in February 2006 and a critical design review in November 2006, the LRO was shipped from Goddard Space Flight Center to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 11, 2009. Launch was planned for October 2008, but this slid to April as the spacecraft underwent testing in a thermal vacuum chamber. Launch was rescheduled for June 17, 2009, because of the delay in a priority military launch, and happened one day later, on June 18. The one-day delay was to allow the Space Shuttle Endeavour a chance to lift off for mission STS-127 following a hydrogen fuel leak that canceled an earlier planned launch.
Areas of investigation include selenodetic global topography; the lunar polar regions, including possible water ice deposits and the lighting environment; characterization of deep space radiation in lunar orbit; and high-resolution mapping, at a maximum resolution of 50 cm/pixel (20 in/pixel), to assist in the selection and characterization of future landing sites.
In addition, LRO has provided some of the first images and precise locations of landers and equipment from previous American and Russian lunar missions, including the Apollo sites.
The orbiter carries a complement of six instruments and one technology demonstration:
- CRaTER—The primary goal of the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation is to characterize the global lunar radiation environment and its biological impacts.
- DLRE—The Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment measures lunar surface thermal emission to provide information for future surface operations and exploration.
- LAMP—The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project peers into permanently shadowed craters in search of water ice, using ultraviolet light generated by stars as well as the hydrogen atoms that are thinly spread throughout the Solar System.
- LEND—The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector provides measurements, create maps, and detect possible near-surface water ice deposits.
- LOLA—The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter investigation provides a precise global lunar topographic model and geodetic grid.
- LROC—The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera addresses the measurement requirements of landing site certification and polar illumination. LROC comprises a pair of narrow-angle push-broom imaging cameras (NAC) and a single wide-angle camera (WAC). LROC has flown several times over the historic Apollo lunar landing sites at 31 miles (50 km) altitude; with the camera's high resolution, the lunar rovers and Lunar Module descent stages and their respective shadows will be clearly visible, along with other equipment previously left on the Moon. The mission is returning approximately 70–100 terabytes of image data. It is expected that this photography will boost public acknowledgement of the validity of the landings, and further discredit Apollo conspiracy theories.
- Mini-RF—The Miniature Radio Frequency radar demonstrated new lightweight SAR and communications technologies and located potential water-ice.
Names to the Moon
Prior to the LRO's launch, NASA gave members of the public the opportunity to have their names placed in a microchip on the LRO. The deadline for this opportunity was July 31, 2008. About 1.6 million names were submitted.
On June 23, 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter entered into orbit around the Moon after a four and a half day journey from the Earth. When launched, the spacecraft was aimed at a point ahead of the Moon's position. A mid-course correction was required during the trip in order for the spacecraft to correctly enter Lunar orbit. Once the spacecraft reached the far side of the Moon, its rocket motor was fired in order for it to be captured by the Moon's gravity into an elliptical lunar orbit. A series of four rocket burns over the next four days put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit where each instrument was brought online and tested. On September 15, 2009, the spacecraft started its primary mission by orbiting the Moon at about 50 kilometers (31 mi) for one year. After completing its one-year exploration phase, in September 2010, LRO was handed over to NASA's Science Mission Directorate to continue the science phase of the mission. It will continue in its 50 km circular orbit, but eventually will be transitioned into a fuel-conserving elliptical orbit for the remainder of the mission.
NASA's LCROSS mission culminated with two lunar impacts at approximately 4:30 a.m. PDT on October 9. The goal of the impact was the search for water in the Cabeus crater near the Moon's south pole, and preliminary results indicated the presence of both water and hydroxyl, an ion related to water.
On January 4, 2011, the Mini-RF instrument team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found that the Mini-RF radar transmitter had suffered an anomaly. Mini-RF has suspended normal operations. Despite being unable to transmit, the instrument is being used to collect bistatic radar observations using radar transmissions from the Earth. The Mini-RF instrument has already met its science mission success criteria by collecting more than 400 strips of radar data since September 2010.
In January 2013 NASA tested one-way laser communication with LRO by sending an image of the Mona Lisa to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on LRO from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging (NGSLR) station at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
On December 17, 2010, a topographic map of the Moon based on data gathered by the LOLA instrument was released to the public. This is the most accurate topographic map of the Moon to date. It will continue to be updated as more data is acquired.
On March 15, 2011, the final set of data from the exploration phase of the mission was released to the NASA Planetary Data System. The spacecraft's seven instruments delivered more than 192 terabytes of data. LRO has already collected as much data as all other planetary missions combined. This volume of data is possible because the Moon is so close and because LRO has its own dedicated ground station and doesn't have to share time on the Deep Space Network. Among the latest products is a global map with a resolution of 100 meters per pixel from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).
Apollo 11 landing site
Apollo 14 landing site
Apollo 15 landing site
Apollo 16 landing site
Apollo 17 landing site
Close up of Apollo 17 Challenger descent stage
Surveyor 1 landing site
LRO views LADEE at a distance of 9 km (5.6 mi).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.|
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- Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA
- Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at GSFC
- Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Profile by NASA's Solar System Exploration
- CRaTER Instrument Home Page
- Diviner Instrument Home Page
- LROC Instrument Home Page
- LCROSS Home Page at NASA Ames
- NASA Announces LRO will carry Russian made instrument
- Northrop Grumman Integrating LCROSS Instruments
- LROC WMS Image Map