NASA selects UCF for $ 35 million mission to the Moon's mysterious Gruithuisen domes

NASA selects UCF for $ 35 million mission to the Moon’s mysterious Gruithuisen domes

Assistant Professor Kerri Donaldson Hanna

image: Planet scientist Kerri Donaldson Hanna has great knowledge of the moon. She is a co-researcher on NASA’s Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS), which will study the moon’s south pole. She is also part of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Diviner Lunar Radiometer experiment.
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Credit: University of Central Florida

NASA used UCF’s dynamic duo, planetary scientists Kerri Donaldson Hanna and Adrienne Dove, to lead a $ 35 million science mission that will land a spaceship on a part of the moon that has never been visited before – the Gruithuisen Domes.

The domes, located in the western part of the Imbrium basin, remain a mystery to scientists. Flyover data from previous assignments indicate that they are made of silicon-containing minerals – stone-hardened from cooled magma. On Earth, the closest comparison may be Mount St. Helens. The volcanic properties appear to have large concentrations of heat-producing elements, which could potentially be used for resources for long-term exploration of the moon.

The robot mission would start in 2026 to study the chemical composition of the domes and how dust interacts with the spacecraft and a rover. Two projects were announced on June 2 as part of NASA’s highly competitive payloads and lunar surface research (PRISM), which is part of the federal government’s plan to use more commercial companies to take payloads to the moon through its Commercial Lunar Payload. Services program. A series of missions have been approved to support the Artemis program and continue lunar exploration. The UCF-led mission is called Lunar Volcano Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer.

“We are still amazed,” said Donaldson Hanna, chief investigator. “We will use a series of instruments on a lander and rover to study the composition of the domes, including the composition and properties of regoliths and boulders and how the moon’s dust reacts to the lander and the rover as it explores the volcanic dome. There is potentially a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be discovered, which will not only help us inform ourselves about future robotic and human exploration of the moon, but can also help us better understand the history of our own planet as well as other planets in the solar system. ”

Chemical signatures from spacecraft orbiting the moon indicate that the surface in this region of the moon is like no other previously found.

Ball Aerospace will build three camera systems – the context and descent cameras, the VNIR camcorder and the compact infrared imaging system. The VNIR Imaging Camera and Compact Infrared Imaging System will be placed on the rover and will provide important information about the composition and properties of the volcanic domes. The context and descent cameras will be located on the lander and will be used to observe the rover’s work throughout the mission.

Arizona State University will provide a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer for the mission, which will be placed on the rover. This will be the first time this type of instrument makes measurements from the moon’s surface, says Donaldson Hanna. The instrument will be crucial in identifying the elemental composition of the surface, which is important for understanding how these areas were formed. If there is a large abundance of hydrogen on the surface, the spectrometer should be able to detect it, which allows us to better understand the origin of the moon’s water.

Donaldson Hanna and Dove are experts in their fields. Donaldson Hanna has great knowledge of the moon. She is a co-researcher on NASA’s Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS), which will study the moon’s south pole. She is also part of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Diviner Lunar Radiometer experiment.

Dove, who is the Assistant Principal Investigator, is an expert on space dust and has conducted experiments on NASA and commercially sponsored vehicles, as well as CubeSats and the International Space Station (ISS). She is also one of the investigators of another CLPS lander instrument, called Heimdall, which will look at dust behavior during moon landings.

“It’s very exciting to be selected,” said Dove. “It was an ambitious proposal, but what we learn will be invaluable. When we land we will be able to see how dust is disturbed and then see how the region changes over time. We will be able to observe how the rover modifies the surface when it travels over “The domes to carry out their work. Right now we have limited direct observations and data from the Apollo missions, and some missions from newer Chinese landers and rovers, so this will be a significant additional contribution.”

Understanding the behavior of the dust will be important when planning trips to the moon and long-term missions on its surface. Dust can not only damage spacecraft and instruments, but can also pose risks to astronauts who are not properly equipped.

The scientific team includes lunar experts from the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Colorado Boulder, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Oxford.

CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) will perform instrument operations and process scientific data for the instruments provided by Ball Aerospace.

Another part of the project is to include outreach activities to local high schools. So the team will also work with teachers in the Orlando area to make them part of the UCF mission work and to use these interactions to build curricula to help students in grades nine through twelve become enthusiastic about space science. Graduate students will also be involved in and crucial to the project’s success and engage the next generation of researchers to study the moon.

Donaldson Hanna received her bachelor’s degree in space science from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1999, her master’s degree in geological sciences from Brown University in 2010 and her doctoral degree in geological sciences from Brown University in 2013. Oxford before she received a British space agency Aurora Research scholarship to continue her research at Oxford for another three and a half years. While at Oxford, she was a junior research fellow at Christ Church College and was awarded the Winton Capital Geophysics Award for early careers from the Royal Astronomical Society. She started at UCF’s Department of Physics 2019.

Dove holds a doctorate in astrophysics and planetary science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Missouri. She joined UCF’s Department of Physics, part of The School of Scienceduring 2012.

One of UCF’s research strengths is space science and innovation. Founded in part to support the growing space industry at the Kennedy Space Center, UCF has a long history of success in space research. UCF scientists have worked on more than 674 NASA projects worth more than $ 193 million. It’s his home to the Florida Space Institute, CLASS and Exolith Lab.

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