Reliable sources report that there will be a press conference at NASA HQ at 2:00 pm this Thursday featuring lunar scientist Carle Pieters from Brown University.
UPDATE: NASA and Science Journal Information and pictures
The topic of the press briefing will be a paper that will appear in this week’s issue of Science magazine wherein results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) aboard Chandrayaan-1 will be revealed. The take home message: there is a lot of water on the Moon. Stay tuned. (H/T Transterrestrial) Water can exist at the lunar poles in the form of ice and could exist further underground in other locations. We will find out on Thursday on the particulars.
UPDATE: From Spaceref: Three articles will appear in Science Magazine Sept 24, 2009 – one paper each describing results on lunar observations from three spacecraft: Deep Impact aka EPOXI, Cassini, and Chandrayaan-1. Three different spacecraft – three different instruments – all saying the same thing about the presence of water and other materials on the Moon.
The EPOXI paper says that water has been “unequivocally” confirmed and that “the entire lunar surface is hydrated during at least some portions of the lunar day”.
In another paper, previously unreleased 1999 flyby data from Cassini shows hydroxyl concentrations on “the sunlit face of the Moon”. Water was detected in concentrations as high as “10 to 1,000 parts per million” and according to the paper “Regardless of its origin, water is found on the lunar surface in areas previously thought to have been depleted in volatiles.”
The Chandrayaan-1 paper says “data suggests that the formation and retention of OH and H2O is an ongoing surficial process. OH/H2O production processes may feed polar cold traps and make the lunar regolith a candidate source of volatiles for human exploration.”
This Mini-RF image from NASA’s powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows radar imagery of the lunar south pole, a potential reservoir for hidden water ice, in new images released Sept. 17, 2009. Credit: NASA/APL/LPI
Nature News says: “Results soon to be published… will show detailed spectra confirming that, indeed, the polar regions of the moon are chockfull of water-altered minerals.”
Two impacts are planned October 9 around 7:30 a.m. Eastern time in the region of a crater called Cabeus-A near the Moon’s south pole.
The mission has two parts:
1. Fire a projectile (part of an Atlas rocket) at the moon and throw up a debris cloud. The mai satellite flies through that, sampling as it goes.
2. The full satellite itself crashes into the moon, throwing up a larger debris cloud – this one visible from Earth. Again, scientists can look for signs of water in it.
It’s not a lot of water. If you took a two-liter soda bottle of lunar dirt, there would probably be a medicine dropperful of water in it, said University of Maryland astronomer Jessica Sunshine, one of the scientists who discovered the water. Another way to think of it is if you want a drink of water, it would take a baseball diamond’s worth of dirt, said team leader Carle Pieters of Brown University. “It’s sort of just sticking on the surface,” Sunshine said. “We always think of the moon as dead and this is sort of a dynamic process that’s going on.”
More interesting, the amount of absorption — and thus the quantity of water — varied over time. That suggests the water is being created when protons from the solar wind slam into the lunar surface. The collisions may free oxygen atoms in the minerals and allow them to recombine with protons and electrons to form water.
Lori M. Feaga, a research scientist at the University of Maryland who is a member of the team that analyzed the Deep Impact data, said this process would work only to about one millimeter into the lunar surface. If correct, that would not give future astronauts much to drink.
“You would have to scrape the area of a baseball field or a football field to get one quart of water,” she said
The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) is one of two instruments that NASA is contributing to India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1 (meaning “Lunar Craft” in ancient Sanskrit), which launched on October 22, 2008. M3 is a state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer that will provide the first map of the entire lunar surface at high spatial and spectral resolution, revealing the minerals of which it is made.
Fuel Depot Papers
Orbital cryogenic propellant depots and the ability to refuel spacecraft in orbit are critical capabilities for the expansion of human life throughout the Solar System. While depots have long been recognized as an important component of large-scale manned spaceflight efforts, questions about their technology readiness have so far prevented their implementation. Technological advancements in settled cryogenic handling, passive thermal control systems, and autonomous rendezvous and docking techniques make near-term implementation of cryogenic propellant depots significantly more realistic. Current work on flight-demonstration tools like ULA’s CRYOTE testbed, and Masten Space Systems’s XA-1.0 suborbital RLV provide methods for affordably retiring the remaining technical risks for cryogenic depots.
Recent depot design concepts, built on high-TRL technologies and existing flight vehicle hardware, can enable easier implementation of first-generation propellant depots without requiring extensive development programs. Some concepts proposed by industry include disposable “pre-depots”, single-fluid simple depots, self-deployable dual-fluid single-launch depots using existing launchers and near-term launcher upgrades, and multi-launch modular depots. These concepts, particularly the dual-fluid single-launch depot enable robust exploration and commercial transportation throughout the inner Solar System, without the need for HLVs, while providing badly-needed markets to encourage the commercial development of more affordable access to space.
While there is still work to be done to bring orbital propellant depots into reality, the technology is at the point where it can be incorporated into manned space transportation systems and be moved forward. The depot design concepts discussed in this paper offer realistic, near-term options that would be useful in a wide variety of manned exploration missions, and would enable commercial manned spaceflight beyond LEO. The tools being developed for flight-testing and maturing these propellant depot technologies make propellant depots much closer to reality than they have ever been. Depots are a key capability for a spacefaring civilization that are ready for development today.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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