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NASA Selects ASU ShadowCam to Fly on Korean Lunar Orbiter

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NASA has selected an instrument developed by Mark Robinson of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration and Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) to map the terrain and search for evidence of frost or ice deposits in the Moon's permanently shadowed regions.

An artist's rendition of ShadowCam mapping PSRs.
An artist's rendition of ShadowCam mapping permanently shadowed regions. Courtesy of Arizona State University / Malin Space Science Systems.

The ShadowCam instrument will be a U.S. contribution to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute's first lunar exploration mission, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter. The ShadowCam optical camera is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera also developed by Mark Robinson and MSSS. It is, however, significantly more sensitive, allowing the camera to obtain high-resolution, and high-signal-to-noise imaging of the moon's shadowed regions.

"The telescope and much of the electronics will be identical," Robinson said. "The big difference is swapping out the current image sensor for one that is 800× more sensitive, allowing high-resolution imaging within permanently shadowed regions, something the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera cannot accomplish."

Launching in 2018, the ShadowCam will observe permanently shadowed regions on the moon every month to detect seasonal changes and measure the terrain inside these enigmatic craters as well as the distribution of boulders.

"Permanently shadowed regions have been a mystery because the perpetually dark interiors are difficult to image and existing research offers varying interpretations regarding the distribution of volatiles within these cold regions," said Jason Crusan, director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

“Future missions in deep space will be safer and more affordable if we have the capability to harvest lunar resources, and ShadowCam has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of the quality and abundance of those resources in these regions."

Eventually ShadowCam images will be merged with the Lunar Reconnaissance Obiter Narrow Angle Camera images to make complete maps of the craters that hose the shadowed regions.

"These merged maps will put us one step closer to enabling landers and rovers to investigate the mysterious lunar permanently shadowed regions," Robinson said.

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2017
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