Tech Exchange

Lunar Science Instrumentation: Understanding and Characterizing the Moon Through Challenging Measurements

NASA lunar robotic science missions support the high-priority goals identified in the 2007 National Research Council report, The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon: Final Report (National Academies Presses, 2007). Future missions will characterize the lunar exosphere and surface environment; field-test new equipment, technologies, and approaches for performing lunar science; identify landing sites and emplace infrastructure to support robotic and human exploration; demonstrate and validate heritage systems for exploration missions; and provide operational experience in the harsh lunar environment.

Space-qualified instruments are required to perform remote and in situ lunar science investigations that include: measurements of lunar dust composition, reactivity and transport, searching for water ice, assessing the radiation environment, gathering long-period measurements of the lunar exosphere, and conducting surface and subsurface geophysical measurements.

Lunar Instrumentation Needs

In order to support the vast array of science mission objectives, NASA‘s Lunar Science Instrument and Technology Development program is seeking to advance the state of the art for instrumentation in the specific areas of geophysical measurements, in-situ lunar surface measurements, as well as measurements of the lunar atmosphere and dust environment. The geophysical measurement systems requirement is focusing on seismometers and heat flow sensors with the capability of long-term continuous operation over multiple lunar day/night cycles.

The in-situ lunar surface measurements systems requirement is focusing on lightweight and power-efficient instruments that enable elemental and/or mineralogy analysis using techniques such as high-sensitivity X-ray and UV-fluorescence spectrometers, UV/fluorescence flash lamp/camera systems, scanning electron microscopy with chemical analysis capability, time-of-flight mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, calorimetry, and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS).

Lastly, the lunar atmosphere and dust environment measurements will require the development of low-mass and lowpower instruments that measure the local lunar surface environment, which includes, but is not limited to, the characterization of the plasma environment, surface electric field, and dust concentrations.

Extreme Environmental Challenges

The development of new instrumentation for in-situ lunar science measurements faces a two-fold challenge. The first challenge for an instrument operating on the lunar surface is its ability to survive the temperature extremes encountered over the 14 days of sunlight followed by 14 days of night (i.e., lunar day/night cycle). In addition, these instruments must also be designed and built to survive a hard landing that is typical of a planetary impactor mission.

SBIR-Led Innovation

The NASA 2008 SBIR Solicitation contains Lunar Science Instrument and Technology Development as a subtopic as one avenue for finding and developing solutions to harness creative and innovative approaches to meeting the challenges of characterizing the Moon for future generations.

For more information, or to tell us about your ideas, contact Gregory Garbe at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, at 256-544- 1586.