Mini-RF Instrument to Orbit the Moon

The following is a revision of an article that appeared in the summer 2008 APL Civilian Space newsletter ("Explorer").

The Mini-RF payloads are technology demonstration experiments designed to survey the permanently-shadowed regions on the lunar poles. The first instrument, Mini-SAR, is a synthetic aperture radar and is scheduled for launch on October 22 on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 mission. An advanced version of the instrument will launch on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, which is now undergoing integration and test at Goddard Space Flight Center.

The main goal of Mini-SAR on Chandrayaan-1 is to conduct systematic SAR mapping for the lunar poles. The Mini-RF payload on LRO is an enhanced version of its cousin flying on Chandrayaan-1, able to communicate in both S-band (like Chandrayaan-1) and X-band. In addition, it features a “zoom” mode that offers higher spatial resolution beyond its baseline resolution (75 meters per pixel). Both instruments will help characterize the lunar environment and provide more information on the possibility of ice in the permanently-shadowed regions of the Moon.

“It’s exciting that we are going to see parts of the Moon for the very first time!” says Ben Bussey, the Mini-RF deputy principal investigator from APL. “The discovery of ice deposits in the floors of permanently-shadowed craters has major ramifications as a potential resource for the upcoming human outpost.”

For the first build of Mini-RF, preparations for launch are underway in Bangalore, India, at the ISRO facilities. The international nature of this project has made it both more exciting and more challenging. “We’ve had many overnight telecons, lots of long flights, and have been constrained by export regulations; however, we’ve had the opportunity to interface with another space agency and have developed an excellent working relationship with our ISRO colleagues” says Helene Winters, the deputy project manager at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

Once the missions are operational, coordination of the observations between both orbiters will provide new information on the Moon’s surface and ice reserves. Scientists also expect that coordinated bistatic (dual radar) imaging using both LRO and Chandrayaan-1 will help them discriminate between ice and rock formations.

The Chandrayann-1 mission is scheduled to launch from India aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. LRO will launch from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. in the spring of 2009 aboard an Atlas 401.

On the Web:
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: