As all experienced road-trippers know, to get the most out of an adventure, a good map helps. It’s no different for NASA’s first lunar robbery planned for delivery to the moon in late 2023 to search for ice and other resources on and below the moon̵
When equipped with these maps, the rover will be in a better position to safely and efficiently cross the Moon while searching for resources at the South Pole. Ice is a resource of particular scientific interest, as it can have applications if found in space and converted to other resources to advance our exploration of the solar system, such as oxygen and rocket fuel.
On an approximately three-foot (one meter) scale, these maps provide a 3D model of large terrain at the south pole of the moon and show the ever-changing light and temperature conditions caused by long shadows sweeping across the landscape.
In addition to preventing the rover from tipping down the edges of steep side craters, this provides close-up of the moon’s surface mission planners important information to ensure the rover’s solar-powered batteries stay charged and guide the rover to safe places to sleep during communication. blackouts with missionary operations on earth.
“We are sending VIPER to one of the Moon’s most dynamic environments, and the rover needs to be able to capture what the Moon provides,” said Anthony Colaprete, VIPER’s project researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. “That’s why we create these unique maps – on a human scale – to help us carefully plan routes for the rover while operating safely and gathering the best possible science.”
The maps already reveal new features of scientific interest on the Moon’s surface, including a series of “mini-cold traps” – which are shaded pockets on the moon’s surface 6 to 16 feet (2 to 5 meters) above – that may be cold enough for ice to potentially collect. These micro-cold traps offer areas to explore in addition to the much deeper and older craters that are a focus of the VIPER mission.
“We used to think that ice only accumulated in deep, dark craters on the moon,” Colaprete said. “But we now believe that even small, shady craters can be cold enough to retain water molecules. These small cold traps are much more common than their larger counterparts, so it is important to understand how they can store water to answer the broader question of how water behaves on the moon. ”
To create the elevation maps, a team uses Ames NASA’s open source Stereo Pipeline software tools, as well as the processing power of Ames’ Pleiades supercomputer to store thousands of satellite images taken by cameras aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Engineers combine these powerful tools and expertise with a photo-processing feature called photoclinometry. This technique, also known as “shading”, combines the known angles of the sun with the gray level of many two-dimensional images to derive the three-dimensional shapes on the moon’s surface. The resulting model of lunar terrain allows engineers to calculate how light and shadows play across the surface at any time in the past or future. For example, using the model, they can predict the lighting at that time and place the rover will land, and plan the rover’s movements to keep it in sunlight and avoid shadows.
With the known light conditions, the team can make detailed temperature maps of the varied terrain, on the surface and up to a little over 2.5 meters below. Temperatures can fluctuate widely between minus 400 degrees and 170 degrees Fahrenheit, making the Moon’s surface a grid with potentially promising and highly unlikely places to discover ice. Equipped with these new maps, the team can pick spots where ice can be and send VIPs to try and verify if ice appears, and if so, how stable it is under different lunar conditions.
“These high-resolution maps have completely changed our mindset,” said Kimberly Ennico Smith, a VIP VIP Ames project researcher. “We are beginning to see how extremely varied the soil conditions on the Moon are, even in areas we once thought were quite uniform. This will give us the opportunity to find the rover’s drilling sites much more carefully and lead us to collect even better scientific data. ”
The VIPER team members who are responsible for keeping the rover buzzing with, have a great interest in seeing what the rover will encounter daily – or rather minute by minute.
“The shadows move around the Moon’s south pole at about the same speed as the rover,” said Mark Shirley, Ames’ head of mission operations. “We have to plan to avoid VIPs being overtaken by the darkness – there is not much room for error.”