NASA’s new lunar exploration program, Lunar Quest, is multi-elemental and therefore differs from any of NASA’s past missions in that it is attempting lunar exploration using a tri-fold approach, namely: (1) for lunar missions of opportunity, (2) research and analysis efforts, and (3) flight missions.
Three main instruments will be implicated in NASA’s lunar exploration mission: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), and Robotic Lunar Lander (RLL).
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):
The LRO is what will ultimately lead NASA back to the moon. Its primary job is to scout out safe landing sites, and to locate possible lunar resources (specifically, water or ice. LCROSS, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing) was launched with LRO in June 2009 for this purpose).
The LRO launched a “Send your name to the moon” initiative, and in response, 1.6 million people sent their names. Click here to view an image of the microchip containing these names (very impressive size!)
Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE):
NASA’s LADEE’s main objective, as the name suggests, is to characterize the moon’s atmosphere and dust environment. Specifically it will, “determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the fragile lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity."
Just a few short weeks ago, LADEE just received its integrated propulsion system, enabling the spacecraft to reach its destination. This means LADEE is on track for its predicted 2013 launch. To read more, click here.
Robotic Lunar Lander (RLL):
Together with the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA is developing a generation of smart robots to explore the surface of not just the moon, but other airless celestial bodies including near-Earth asteroids.
Read more here.
Research and analysis:
The Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER):
The LASER is a grant foundation that has been developed to incite further research into the following fields of study: geology, geochemistry, geophysics, exospheric science, solar wind environment history/physics, and radiation environment physics.
Specific areas of study funded by LASER include:
Genesis and dynamical evolution of the Earth-moon system; Lunar evolution (crust, interior, radiation environment, etc.); Physics and chemistry of the lunar interior (e.g., composition, structure, heat flow etc.); Geomorphological analysis of the lunar surface; Lunar cratering processes; Petrogenesis of lunar materials; Lunar volcanological history and processes; Evolution of the lunar radiation environment; Growth and development of the lunar regolith; and Development, composition, and physics of the moon's exosphere.
For more information, click here.
The Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project (LMMP):
The LMMP is a program devoted to a suite of lunar mapping. It will be drawing primarily from findings of the RLO, but also from historical data, such as Apollo, Lunar Orbiter, Kaguya, and Chandrayaan-1.
Through analysis of this data, the LMMP will be able to provide image mosaics, digital elevation models, hazard assessment maps, lighting maps and models, gravity models, and resource maps.
Once sufficient data has been collected and analysed, such as safe landing sites, resource locations, atmospheric and dust data, NASA will organize flight missions to recreate that historic giant leap for mankind.