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

By Michael Cooney, Network World |  Science, NASA

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.

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