New NASA Ames Spacecraft to Look for Ice at One of Moon's Poles
On April 10, 2006, NASA announced that a small, 'secondary payload' spacecraft developed by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was selected to begin a journey to the Moon in October 2008 to look for water ice at one of the lunar poles beginning early in 2009.
The smaller secondary payload spacecraft will travel with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite to the moon on the same Atlas-Centaur rocket to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. A team from NASA Ames proposed the secondary payload mission, which will be carried out by the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).
After launch, the 'secondary payload,' LCROSS spacecraft will arrive in the lunar vicinity independent of the LRO satellite. On the way to the moon, the LunarCROSS spacecraft's two main parts, the Shepherding Spacecraft (S-S/C) and the Centaur Upper Stage will remain coupled.
As the spacecraft approaches the moon's south pole, the Centaur will separate, and then will impact a crater in a polar region of the moon. A plume from the Centaur crash will develop as the S-S/C heads in towards the moon. The S-S/C will fly through the plume, and instruments on the spacecraft will analyze the cloud to look for signs of water and other compounds. Additional space and earth-based instruments also will study the huge plume, which scientists expect to be larger than 200 metric tons.
The LCROSS mission will help determine if there is water hidden in the permanently dark craters of one of the moon's poles. If there are substantial amounts of water ice there, it could be used by astronauts to make rocket fuel when they later visit the moon.
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Image Credit: NASA