NASA spacecraft set to slam into the moon in search of water


In search of elusive moon water, NASA expects to slam its Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) into the moon tomorrow morning creating what the space agency hopes is an ice-filled a debris plume that should be visible from Earth- and space-based telescopes 10-to-12 inches and larger. 

The LCROSS satellite experiment has as its goal to detect and determine how much water might be lurking under the moons surface. LCROSS is made up of two spacecraft. The first, known as the heavy impactor Centaur will separate from the main LCROSS satellite and will fly down and hit the moons surface, burrowing at least 90ft into the moon's surface throwing up an estimated 250 metric tons of lunar dust. Following four minutes behind, the remaining LCROSS spacecraft will fly through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before it too crashes into the lunar surface, burrowing in about 60ft, NASA stated.

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According to NASA, as the debris field rises above the target area, known as the Cabeus crater, and is exposed to sunlight, any water-ice, hydrocarbons or organics will vaporize and break down into their basic components. These components primarily will be monitored by the visible and infrared spectrometers. The near-infrared and mid-infrared cameras will determine the total amount and distribution of water in the debris plume. The spacecraft's visible camera will track the impact location and the behavior of the debris plume while the visible radiometer will measure the flash created by the Centaur impact, NASA stated.

The LCROSS science payload consists of two near-infrared spectrometers, a visible light spectrometer, two mid-infrared cameras, two near-infrared cameras, a visible camera and a visible radiometer.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched with LCROSS June 18, will observe the plumes, as will the Hubble Space Telescope and observatories on Earth.

The LRO is using a pumped up communications device to deliver 461 gigabytes of data and images per day, at a rate of up to 100 Mbps.

As the first high data rate K-band transmitter to fly on a NASA spacecraft, the 13-inch-long tube, called a Traveling Wave Tube Amplifier, is making it possible for NASA scientists to receive massive amounts of images and data about the moon's surface and environment.

The amplifier was built by L-3 Communications Electron Technologies in conjunction with NASA's Glenn Research Center. The device uses electrodes in a vacuum tube to amplify microwave signals to high power. It's ideal for sending large amounts of data over a long distance because it provides more power and more efficiency than its alternative, the transistor amplifier, NASA stated.

NASA also notes that through the agency's "Send Your Name to the Moon" initiative, the spacecraft carries a microchip with nearly 1.6 million names submitted by the public. Click here to view a photo of the microchip containing the names as engineers prepare to install it on the spacecraft.

If all goes well, the LCROSS mission would be a huge boost for NASA which has been under the gun of late. In September, the Government Accountability Office slammed the future of the manned space flight program.

NASA is still struggling to develop a solid business case--including firm requirements, mature technologies, a knowledge-based acquisition strategy, a realistic cost estimate, and sufficient funding and time--needed to justify moving the Constellation program, witch includes the two main spaceflight components, the Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, forward into the implementation phase, the GAO stated.

In addition, the recent Review of United States Human Space Flight Plan Committee said in its preliminary report on the future of NASA said: '[NASA] is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources. Space operations are among the most complex and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations."

Want to compare network applications products? Visit the IT Product Guides now. The committee's report was bleak too but ultimately how its results are interpreted will determine the future of any manned space flights.

This story, "NASA spacecraft set to slam into the moon in search of water" was originally published by Network World.

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