The Center for Lunar Science and Exploration will provide an interface between NASA’s science and exploration communities. The goal is to develop the architecture, tools, and operational protocols that will create the most efficient and productive lunar and near-Earth asteroid surface operations when the SLS and Orion programs carry crew beyond low-Earth orbit.
Tasks involve the development of lunar and near-Earth asteroid analogue study sites, the simulations of lunar and near-Earth missions in those study sites, and trade studies that investigate different hardware and operational options. Team members are also involved in the analysis of sample and remote sensing data to better inform landing and operational site selection for future missions.
These activities are being coordinated with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and NASA’s Human and Exploration Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD). They are also being coordinated with the Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) program.
- Mission Simulations
- Mission Concepts
- Lunar Landing Site Studies
- Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Target Studies
The Center for Lunar Science and Exploration has been working with Desert RATS and other elements of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems program to develop simulations of complex robotic and human missions. We have previously conducted simulations of missions to the lunar surface and to a near-Earth asteroid.
In 2009, team members assisted the NASA Desert RATS program (located at JSC, but involving several NASA Centers) with a simulation of a 14-day lunar mission. They also assisted the Ames Research Center with its K-10 robotic precursor simulations. All of those lunar mission simulations were conducted at the Black Point Lava Flow lunar analogue site, which we helped develop.
In 2010, team members assisted the NASA Desert RATS program with a simulation of a dual-rover 28-day lunar mission. This test evaluated several operational techniques that might be employed in a mission to Malapert Peak and surrounding areas near the lunar south pole.
Figure 1a-b: In June 2008, team members tested a Ground Penetrating Radar system on the unpressurized crew rover called Chariot. They also worked with crew to develop and test geologic sample protocols. Photo Credits: (1a) Essam Heggy, (1b) NASA JSC.
Figure 2a-c: In October 2008, team members joined the D-RATS initiative in simulations of 4 lunar missions at the Black Point Lava Flow in northern Arizona. Tests involved detailed crew traverses and a trade study between the unpressurized crew rover (see Figure 1) and a pressurized crew rover (seen here). Geologic tools were located at the aft of the rover. Crew egressed through suit ports on a platform near the geologic tool storage rack. Photo Credits: (2a) NASA JSC, (2b-c) David A. Kring.
In 2011, we conducted simulations of several types of missions to a near-Earth asteroid. These missions involved four astronauts and different types of mission elements. In some cases, the astronauts went EVA in their spacesuits while in other cases they explored the asteroid from inside a Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV), which is a derivative of the Lunar Electric Rover (LER) designed for the lunar surface.
NASA is developing new launch and crew-carrying capability with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle. Those assets will initially be used to conduct missions in cis-lunar space while the capabilities to conduct missions farther afield are developed. NASA is also working with other space agencies to develop a coordinated plan of exploration called the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER). In the 2013 edition of the roadmap, five human exploration missions are planned for the lunar vicinity between 2021 and 2028, the latter being a mission that takes humans to the lunar surface. That roadmap also includes at least one mission to a near-Earth asteroid in a native heliocentric orbit or an orbit that has been robotically redirected into a lunar orbit.
The Center for Lunar Science and Exploration team has been helping NASA develop mission concepts for missions to both the Moon and a NEA. The most mature concept involves a human-assisted sample return mission to the lunar farside. In this mission scenario, astronauts on the Orion vehicle would be above the lunar farside in either a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 position or in a lunar distant retrograde orbit. The astronauts would then help operate a rover on the lunar surface. The rover would explore a high-priority science target, like the Schrödinger basin (see Fig. 7 below). and collect samples for return to Earth. After the rover collected the samples, they would be transferred to a robotic ascent vehicle. That ascent vehicle could either launch the samples directly back to Earth or into lunar orbit to be captured by the astronauts on Orion vehicle.
|In 2007, the National Research Council published a report called The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, which provided NASA the scientific guidance it needed for an enhanced exploration program that would provide global access to the lunar surface through an integrated robotic and human mission architecture. Over a five year period (2008-2012), eight summer study groups were organized by the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration to determine where on the surface those scientific objectives could be addressed. Maps with those locations were compiled for each scientific goal. This was a completely novel and objective way to identify the global distribution of future landing sites. In the end, when the maps for all of the goals are overlaid, a series of scientifically-rich landing sites emerge, some of which had never been considered before. That produced a final summary report called A Global Lunar Landing Site Study to Provide the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon.|
|Figure 6. Click on the image to see a vivid video and audio recording that flies over the spectacular lunar surface.|
Using that report as a foundation, higher fidelity geologic studies of high-priority landing sites are continuing. That includes studies of the scientifically-richest sites in Schrödinger basin, within the South Pole-Aitken basin, on the lunar farside. Other sites being explored may provide volatile elements (like H2, O2, or even H2O) that may help catalyze exploration activities on the Moon and beyond.
Members of the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration team have been studying meteoritic fragments of near-Earth asteroids (NEA) for decades, so they have a tremendous amount of expertise with the properties of NEA and the geologic processes — dominantly impact cratering — that affects them and the surfaces that any astronauts might explore.
The team is also intimately involved in the characterization of NEA – including potential targets for human exploration – using the radar capabilities of the Arecibo Observatory. Those radar techniques can precisely determine the position of an asteroid in space and its long-term orbit, two pieces of information that are essential for a rendezvous by crew in an Orion vehicle. Those radar techniques can also produce images of surface features, like boulders and impact craters, that may affect exploration activities when crew arrive at an asteroid.
Studies of meteoritic samples of asteroids and the Arecibo observations will be integrated into a better assessment of NEA and mission concepts designed to explore NEA. Some of that expertise has already been used in a 2011 mission simulation (as described in the “Mission Simulations” section above
|Figure 8. The Arecibo Observatory is a 305-meter diameter radar telescope that produces high-fidelity orbits, shapes, and surface textures of NEA. The observatory is located in Puerto Rico, as shown from orbit in a spectacular view (upper left) captured by astronauts on the International Space Station. A radar signal is beamed to a target asteroid (center), reflected and captured by the observatory (upper right). This same system has been used to map future landing sites on the Moon too. Illustration credit: LPI (John Blackwell and David Kring).|