Feeds

Lunar surveyor satellite ready for launch

NASA plans hairy moon rimshot

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA has announced completion of thermal vacuum testing on its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which will map landing sites on the Moon for America's planned new wave of manned space exploration. Launching next year, the LRO will orbit the Moon just 30 miles up, allowing it to scan the surface with great precision.

The tests completed today subjected the fully-assembled spacecraft to the rigours it will face in space, including vacuum, extreme heat and terrible cold.

"We have cooked LRO, frozen it, shaken it, and blasted it with electromagnetic waves, and still it operates," said NASA engineer Dave Everett.

The tests were done in NASA's Thermal Vacuum Chamber at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. The space survey machine will be shipped to Cape Canaveral early next year, ready for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in April. The LRO will share its ride with another Moon mission, an impact probe called the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

Once at the Moon, the LRO will take up a polar orbit, so covering the whole lunar surface as time goes by. It will be able to orbit safely just 30 miles up, owing to the lack of any atmosphere.

NASA planners are particularly keen to have accurate maps of potential landing sites, so as to avoid any mishaps to the manned landers they intend to send to the Moon from 2020. Back in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to take manual control of their Apollo 11 module just 400 feet up, as it was taking them down into a crater strewn with massive boulders. When they set down safely beyond the crater, they had just 30 seconds of fuel left.

The space agency would like to avoid this sort of thing in future. However, they are also very keen to make "hairy landings on a crater rim" if at all possible.

The reason for this is solar power. NASA aims to establish long-term bases when it goes back to the Moon, and in space the usual source of power is solar panels. But most of the Moon is subject to nights lasting two weeks, making solar power a troublesome option.

But at the lunar poles, sunlight can be almost constant - especially on crater lips and mountaintops.

"Solar energy could be the main source of power because the sun is almost always above the horizon," according to Goddard boffin Richard Vondrak.

"There may even be areas on crater rims and mountains where the sun hasn't set for eons, called Permanently Illuminated Regions (PIRs)."

Thus the LRO will be giving the polar regions a particularly hard stare as it passes over. A base in a PIR might be able to largely do without nuclear power, which would otherwise be necessary for any longterm presence.

There's more from NASA on the LRO mission here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.