Posted: 25 November, 2008
India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, has begun making science observations and successfully deployed its Moon Impact Probe at the lunar south pole.
The 29 kilogram Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was dropped close to Shackleton crater, where ice is thought to exist in areas that are permanently in shadow. The probe carried three instruments: a video imaging system, a radar altimeter and a mass spectrometer, which took images, determined altitude and studied the thin lunar atmosphere during the 25 minute descent, respectively. The data was transmitted back to the orbiter and later downloaded to Earth.
Two raw images of the lunar surface taken by the camera on the Moon Impact Probe after separating from Chandrayaan-1. Image: ISRO.
The probe struck the lunar surface at a velocity of 1.5 kilometres per second. “The precise point where the MIP went down is still being analysed,” says Detlef Koschny, Chandrayaan-1 project scientist for ESA. “It was not controlled and the intention was simply to get it down in the area of the South Pole, not to go inside of Shackleton.”
The main goal of the MIP was a technology demonstration to show that scientific analysis could be performed during the probe’s descent, and the science team are currently putting together the data for public consumption. The impact speed in this case was too low to throw up any dust or ice but that is one of the goals of NASA’s upcoming LCROSS mission that should excavate material from one of the Moon’s dark south pole craters, and will finally confirm the presence or absence of water ice there. The identification of water is very important to the future of human activities on the Moon.
The rest of Chandrayaan-1’s instruments are now beginning science operations, once completing a commissioning phase. That is, all the standard modes of each instrument are tested by carrying out routine ‘housekeeping’ activities to verify that everything is working properly. The European Space Agency is involved with three instruments - C1XS (Chandrayaan-1 X-ray Spectrometer), SARA (Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyser) and SIR-2 (a near-infrared spectrometer), of which SIR-2 has already begun science observations, C1XS is performing routine tests and SARA will be commissioned in the coming weeks. “Full science operations will begin mid-December, of course pending successful instrument commissioning,” says Koschny.
C1XS, SARA and SIR-2 will all map the Moon’s composition in different ways. C1XS, built by UK scientists and engineers, will quantify the Moon’s mineral resources and is expected to unearth clues regarding the origin of the Earth-Moon system. SARA will investigate the space environment around the Moon, and the interactions of the solar wind with the Moon's surface. SIR-2 will survey the Moon's mineral composition and the effect of space weathering, since in the absence of an atmosphere the Moon’s barren surface is exposed directly to the harsh environment of space. Accurate maps of the Moon’s surface composition will help planetary scientist unravel the Moon’s geological history, which will help us better understand the origin of the Earth-Moon system. The results are also expected to teach us more about what happened on the Moon since it formed and how and when it cooled.
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