Scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida in October of 2008, the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission will venture to the Moon’s south pole. The mission will carry equipment from Ocean Optics named ALICE to help analyze the makeup of the lunar craters, with the goal of locating water below the Moon’s surface. The LCROSS mission will send a rocket crashing into the Moon at twice the speed of a bullet in order to study the resulting ejecta cloud. The impact is expected to generate a 2.2-million-pound plume of matter, which another spacecraft carrying ALICE will fly through, looking for signs of water and other compounds. Measuring the reflectivity of the plume, ALICE will enable scientists to distinguish between water vapor, water ice, and hydrated minerals with molecularly bound water.
Aurora Design & Technology (Clearwater, FL) is developing the reflectance viewing optics for the mission, using an Ocean Optics QE65000 spectrometer as a platform to custom-build a spectrometer to meet NASA’s specifications. With a wavelength range of 270-650 nm and an optical resolution of less than 1.0 nm, ALICE will be able to identify ionized water, OH radicals, and other organic molecules containing carbon. The unit’s back-thinned detector makes the most of available light, a critical feature as the measurements will be taken from the dark region of the Moon where light is scarce. To survive the harsh conditions of the lunar mission, ALICE was designed to withstand extreme temperature ranges, as well as shock and vibration. All of the materials, optics, and mounting hardware were selected with these hazards in mind. Several electronics modifications were made to accommodate conversion of the communication ports from USB to RS-422, and of the power supply from 5V to 24V.
Water hidden in the Moon’s craters could mean drinking water or the ability to break down the hydrogen and oxygen molecules into rocket fuel, laying the foundation for the Moon as a staging point for further space exploration.