Center for Lunar Science and Exploration

Never Stop Exploring

The Schrödinger basin is ~320 km in diameter and located in what is likely to be the modification zone of the 2500 km diameter South Pole-Aitken basin. Schrödinger is the second youngest basin, while the South Pole-Aitken basin is the oldest, so a sample return mission to that location has the potential of determining the duration of the basin-forming epoch and addressing the two highest science priorities in the National Research Council (2007) report. Moreover, it is also the best preserved basin of its size and, thus, a perfect target for discerning basin formation processes.

To Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The basin-forming impact uplifted material from great depth, producing a peak ring of crystalline rock massifs. That material, when combined with material within impact breccias and exposed in the basin walls, will provide a cross-section through a substantial portion of the lunar crust. Furthermore, the bulk composition of that crust can be derived from the composition of the Schrödinger impact melt. Collectively, those samples provide a means for testing the lunar magma ocean hypothesis.

A Scientifically-rich Exploration Site

Magmas eventually erupted onto the basin floor, producing mare basalt flows and a spectacular pyroclastic vent, providing an opportunity to probe the thermal and magmatic evolution of the Moon's mantle.

Landing Sites

The pyroclastic vent may have important in situ resource (ISRU) potential too, producing volatile deposits and fine-grained material that is easily excavated, transported, and processed for a sustainable exploration effort by either robotic assets or human crews. Thus far, four landing sites have been identified for human missions, three landing sites have been identified for robotic or human-assisted robotic missions, and other options are being located as more detailed geologic studies are produced.

Potential Mission Concepts

To adequately address the lunar objectives of the National Research Council report, sample return missions are required. The best results would be obtained by a trained crew on the lunar surface. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the capability of landing crew on the surface, so efforts to provide an alternative architecture using integrated robotic and human capability are being investigated. One plan suggests deploying robotic assets to Schrödinger basin and teleoperating them with a crew hovering above the lunar farside at the Earth-Moon L2 position in the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The robotic asset could conduct geologic reconnaissance, collect samples, and return them to Earth. In that same mission or a complementary mission, the robotic assistant could deploy a low radio frequency telescope to address astrophysical science objectives.

The Moon’s Schrödinger basin is the best preserved impact basin of its size.  The diversity of geologic exposures in Schrödinger basin provides several attractive landing sites for one or more sample return missions.  This farside location is also an excellent target for an integrated human and robotic exploration program designed to enhance capabilities for long duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

 

Center for Lunar and Science and Exploration scientists and students

The Center for Lunar Science and Exploration’s scientists and students explore potential destinations for robotic and human missions on the Moon and near-Earth asteroids with a Mars-forward point of view. One of the most interesting mission targets is the Schrödinger basin on the lunar farside, but our team has also identified potential landing sites around the entire sphere of the Moon. The team has worked closely with mission architects to test mission scenarios to the Moon and a near-Earth asteroid. www.lpi.usra.edu/nlsi