NASA's LRO satellite will offer bird's eye view of moon

High-resolution photos will be used to find fertile ground for lunar base

A lunar satellite with special cameras NASA plans to launch in May will send back the highest-resolution photographs ever taken of the moon's surface, providing scientists -- and the public -- with a virtual view that's close to the real one found by astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969.

Scientists say the 10000-by-1000 resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) will equal roughly one foot of Moon surface for every pixel. The satellite will orbit about 31 miles above the moon. "I believe we'll have better public imagery of some parts of the moon than we do of some parts of the earth," said Dan Stanzione, director of Arizona State University's Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative.

The LROC is part of NASA's Lunar Precursor Robotic Program and the first spacecraft to be built as part of NASA's plans to return to the Moon."

LROC is part of NASA's Lunar Precursor Robotic Program and the first spacecraft to be built as part of NASA's plans to return to the Moon.
NASA will use the photos to explore for a Moon base location

Arizona State has partnered with NASA and the Johnson Space Center to compile a digital archive of thousands of new images from the LROC as well as images from past Apollo mission flight films for the world to view. The Apollo film archive project started in June 2007 and is expected to be completed this summer.

The images from the LROC will be transmitted from the satellite to Arizona State for systematic processing. The images will be stored in the school's main data center on NetApp arrays, and will then be replicated to secondary campus sites. At the same time, the images will also be replicated off-site onto systems within the Storage Delivery Network cloud computing service from Nirvanix.

Stanzione, who oversees the high-resolution photo project, said the satellite will launch around May 22 and that its images will take about 90 days to process. They will first be accessible by NASA scientists and soon thereafter to the public via Arizona State's Web servers. A graphical user interface will allow viewers to specify the region of the moon they want to explore.

The photography of the moon will begin with a scan of the lunar north pole region, which measures about 134 miles by 20 miles, according to Ernest Bowman-Cisneros, manager of the LROC Science Operations Center at Arizona State's School for Earth and Space Exploration.

In the satellite's first year of orbiting, more than 130TB of image data is expected to be stored in the school's servers. "Officially, this is a one-year mission, but if it's successful and the spacecraft still works, an extended mission may go out several years and it will produce data at that rate," Stanzione said. NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma added, "The LROC could be up there for five years or more. We've had a pretty good track record of things lasting longer than the initial phase was planned for."

The images will be used by NASA to, among other things, identify safe landing sites for future robotic and human missions to the moon, which include plans to build a base there by 2020. The LROC imagery will produce a global map that will improve NASA's characterization of terrains, especially on the far side of the moon, where a strong Sun has so far caused photographs to have poor resolution.

The LROC has two light cameras: one with a wide angle and another with a narrow angle. The wide-angle camera has a 90-degree field of view and takes continuous, 100-meters-per-pixel images as long as a scene below is illuminated. The LROC's narrow-angle camera will offer the highest-resolution imagery by photographing swaths about 3 miles wide and 15 miles long with a resolution of .5 meters per pixel.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instruments. At the top is one of the two narrow angle cameras with a 88.9 mm (3.5 inch) Swiss Army Knife (and a hammer) for scale. At the bottom is the wide angle camera system, with the same pocket knife for scale.

Top: the narrow angle camera system; bottom: the wide-angle camera (photo courtesy of Malin Space Science Systems)

Click to view larger image

The data will be beamed back to Earth from an antenna on the spacecraft to large antennas on Earth. The primary receiving antenna is in White Sands, N.M. The data is transmitted in a portion of the microwave spectrum called the Ka band.

An atmosphere is not needed for a spacecraft to orbit the moon or a planet. In fact, an atmosphere can get in the way of making good measurements and distort images like the ones the LROC will be producing.

Hautaluoma said that in addition to the LROC, the satellite will carry six instruments that will gather, among other things, infrared images and radioactive readings. One will also be used to search for water beneath the surface that could be used to sustain life for those living in a lunar outpost.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon