Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

Context: 

  • Recently NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has observed water molecules moving around the dayside of Moon, an advance that could help us learn about the accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future lunar missions.
  • Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) — the instrument aboard LRO — measured sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to the Moon’s surface, which helped characterise lunar hydration changes over the course of a day.

Uses of lunar water:

  • Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable.

Source of Moon’s surface water:

  • Scientists had hypothesised that hydrogen ions in the solar wind may be the source of most of the moon’s surface water. As a result, when the moon passes behind the earth and is shielded from the solar wind, the ‘water spigot’ should essentially turn off.
  • However, the water observed by LAMP does not decrease when the moon is shielded by the earth and the region influenced by its magnetic field, suggesting water builds up over time, rather than ‘raining’ down directly from the solar wind.

How is lunar water bound to surface materials?

  • Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Molecules thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere or exosphere, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface.

About Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

  • LRO is a NASA mission to the moon within the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) in preparation for future manned missions to the moon and beyond (Mars).
  • LRO is the first mission of NASA’s `New Vision for Space Exploration’, which President Bush announced on January 14, 2004, in sending more robot and human explorers beyond Earth orbit.

The objectives of LRO are to:

  • Identify potential lunar resources.
  • Gather detailed maps of the lunar surface.
  • Collect data on the moon’s radiation levels.
  • Study the moons polar regions for resources that could be used in future manned missions or robotic sample return missions.
  • Provide measurements to characterize future robotic explorers, human lunar landing sites and to derive measurements that can be used directly in support of future Lunar Human Exploration Systems.

Source: TH & Wikipedia