NASA has selected a scientific instrument called LAMP (or Lyman Alpha Mapping Project) to be developed by Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) and flown on its upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. LRO is the first space mission in NASA's planned return of robots and humans to the Moon. LRO will carry six instruments when it launches in 2008.
LRO's primary goals are to identify useful deposits of lunar resources such as ice in the Moon's polar regions, to characterize future landing sites and to document radiation hazards to future lunar explorers.
LRO will be the first spacecraft built as a part of the Vision for Space Exploration articulated by President Bush. "We are extremely excited about the innovative (LRO) payload, and we are confident it will fulfill our expectations and support the Vision for Space Exploration," said NASA Associate Administrator for the space agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Craig Steidle.
LAMP is a compact ultraviolet mapping spectrometer. Its primary job will be to search for and map exposed deposits of water frost near the lunar poles. It will also make maps of permanently shadowed regions deep in the Moon's polar craters, which are of interest for future landing sites. In addition, LAMP will study the tenuous, but fascinating, lunar atmosphere and demonstrate a lunar polar night vision system with important application to future robotic and human missions.
Many of LAMP's investigations will exploit ultraviolet star-shine and the unique, ultraviolet "Lyman alpha" glow of the sky. This new and innovative technique will allow LAMP to peer into dark polar craters and valleys where sunshine is eternally absent.
"According to our model calculations, this technique could allow future human and robotic exploration missions to literally see in the dark without the need for power-hungry artificial lighting," says LAMP Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern. Stern is executive director of the SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division.
LAMP will be an adaptation of the highly sensitive, lightweight ALICE imaging ultraviolet spectrometer, built with NASA funding for the ESA/NASA Rosetta comet orbiter and NASA New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt missions. "This reduces the cost to NASA and leverages the investment NASA has already made in SwRI ultraviolet spectrometers for planetary exploration," said John Scherrer, LAMP project manager and a group leader within SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division.
The LAMP science team includes investigators from SwRI, Johns Hopkins University and Catholic University.
"Our team is very excited to take part in LRO by contributing LAMP to the mission," said LAMP Project Scientist, Dr. David Slater, a principal scientist at SwRI. Stern echoed his enthusiasm. "LRO is going to be a groundbreaking NASA mission, with the potential to make historic discoveries about the nature of the Moon and its potential for renewed exploration by astronauts."
The LRO mission is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, with more than 2,800 employees and an annual research volume of more than $355 million.
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio