Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lunar eclipse and impact monitoring

One of the cooler things going on on the Marshall campus (well, ok, except for making ginormous rockets...) is the Lunar Impact Monitoring project. It is part of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) here at MSFC to characterize meteoroid environments for spacecraft engineering and operations. The Automated Lunar and Meteor Observatory (ALaMO) watches dark areas of the moon and looks for bright flashes caused by meteor impacts. ALaMO consists of two telescopes here at MSFC and one in Georgia, all simultaneously monitoring the same area on the Moon. Having the two here allows you to check whether a flash appears in both telescopes to make sure it's not just a random bright pixel on the CCD, like a cosmic ray hit. Having the one in Georgia means you can use parallax to make sure the flash is very far away - glints off of satellites or orbital debris are too close to show up in both states at the same time.

Knowing the meteoroid flux on the Moon and modeling how much debris the impacts kick up is important when you want to build a lunar base, spacesuit, or emergency shelter. If the major danger is from high-velocity primary meteoroid impacts, then you want to have an outer layer of material that takes the brunt of the hit and breaks up the primary so that the inner layer can absorb smaller broken up pieces. But, if there is more danger from the ejecta of these small impacts, the design would be very different and the difference translates to mass and cost uncertainties in design. The present lunar impact flux is also scientifically interesting, as it represents the very small end of the Near Earth Object (NEO) population. The ALaMO sees impacts from roughy fist-sized pieces of debris, most of it already in orbits that intersect the Earth-Moon orbit (NEOs). Extrapolating up to larger sizes is another data point in understanding what debris is nearby our home.

During the lunar eclipse a couple weeks ago, we went out with some local TV crews to talk about the eclipse and general Moon stuff. We intended to use the ALaMO as a backdrop because it looks cool - but the MEO people were there and observing during the eclipse too. Thougheclipses happens during a full, bright moon, which is normally exactly NOT when ALaMO can observe, the few hours of darkness during eclipses enable observation of debris coming from the sunward direction - usually unobservable the rest of the year. How cool is that?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar satellites!

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I'd tell you more about all the other satellites on their way to the Moon. Well, we turned that effort into a nice little story for Science@NASA that you can check out, complete with links.

Alternatively, here's a quick guide to the instrumentation that's going to fly:

Monday, February 04, 2008

Finally, a real lunar program

i didn't realize how long it had been since my last post, sorry everyone! I had a great Christmas/New Years/Solstice holidays here in Huntsville and then we took a couple weeks off in January for an actual (well-deserved) vacation.

OK, so today there is big big news in the lunar arena. The President's 2009 budget request for NASA came out and there were many briefings to attend about it (may I just opine, Shana Dale is a really good presenter). The news isn't bad, but certainly NASA didn't get anything more. It's basically keeping up with inflation.

One interesting thing is that Associate Administrator for Science, Alan Stern, is making good on his desire to see a series of lunar science missions. Though it may seem patterned after NASA's wildly successful Mars Exploration Program, the lunar program is considerable smaller, both in resources and capabilities. But with LRO and LCROSS next year, the Discovery mission GRAIL in 2011, a new Ames/Goddard smallsat (LADEE - Lunar Atmospheres and Dust and something with two e's) piggybacked onto the GRAIL launch, and 2 new lunar microlanders to be launched by 2014, we arguably have a lunar exploration program going. And of course, every program needs a management office. It so happens that the Lunar program office will be based here at MSFC!

We're still working to digest what it all means, but I am excited to be here right now!

Oh, er, and the rovers are still going too :)