2012

Corner-Cube Retroreflector Instrument for Advanced Lunar Laser Ranging

A paper describes how, based on a structural-thermal-optical-performance analysis, it has been determined that a single, large, hollow corner cube (170-mm outer diameter) with custom dihedral angles offers a return signal comparable to the Apollo 11 and 14 solid-corner-cube arrays (each consisting of 100 small, solid corner cubes), with negligible pulse spread and much lower mass. The design of the corner cube, and its surrounding mounting and casing, is driven by the thermal environment on the lunar surface, which is subject to significant temperature variations (in the range between 70 and 390 K). Therefore, the corner cube is enclosed in an insulated container open at one end; a narrow-bandpass solar filter is used to reduce the solar energy that enters the open end during the lunar day, achieving a nearly uniform temperature inside the container. Also, the materials and adhesive techniques that will be used for this corner-cube reflector must have appropriate thermal and mechanical characteristics (e.g., silica or beryllium for the cube and aluminum for the casing) to further reduce the impact of the thermal environment on the instrument’s performance.

The instrument would consist of a single, open corner cube protected by a separate solar filter, and mounted in a cylindrical or spherical case. A major goal in the design of a new lunar ranging system is a measurement accuracy improvement to better than 1 mm by reducing the pulse spread due to orientation. While achieving this goal, it was desired to keep the intensity of the return beam at least as bright as the Apollo 100-corner-cube arrays. These goals are met in this design by increasing the optical aperture of a single corner cube to approximately 170 mm outer diameter. This use of an “open” corner cube allows the selection of corner cube materials to be based primarily on thermal considerations, with no requirements on optical transparency. Such a corner cube also allows for easier pointing requirements, because there is no dependence on total internal reflection, which can fail off-axis.

This work was done by Slava G. Turyshev, William M. Folkner, Gary M. Gutt, James G. Williams, Ruwan P. Somawardhana, and Richard T. Baran of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47489

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Corner-Cube Retroreflector Instrument for Advanced Lunar Laser Ranging (reference NPO-47489) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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