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June 20, 2019

Lunar Trailblazer: Johns Hopkins APL’s Rachel Klima Will Help Develop Concept NASA Mission

moon surface

This image of the Moon is from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission. It is a three-color composite of reflected near-infrared radiation from the Sun, and illustrates the extent to which different materials are mapped across the side of the Moon that faces Earth. Small amounts of water and hydroxyl (blue) were detected on the surface of the Moon at various locations. This image illustrates their distribution at high latitudes toward the poles.

Credit: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS

A small satellite concept designed to detect and map water on the surface of the Moon has been selected as one of three finalists for NASA’s latest round of research and design development. Rachel Klima, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, has been named as deputy principal investigator for this concept, called Lunar Trailblazer.

“The discovery of water on the Moon roughly a decade ago was a huge surprise. We’ve worked hard to squeeze everything we can out of the data we have, but we’re at a point where we have critical questions that we just cannot answer without another mission,” said Klima. “Lunar Trailblazer will reveal details that are extremely important both for fundamental science and for human exploration of the Moon. How much water is there? What form is it in — is it ice, frost or a microscopic layer stuck to damaged mineral grains? Does the amount of water change over time? Is there evidence that some of the water is from the lunar interior?”

Lunar Trailblazer will carry two high-quality science instruments on a small, cube-shaped satellite about the size of a dorm refrigerator, which would measure just 5 meters in length with its solar panels fully deployed. First is a miniaturized imaging spectrometer, based on similar instruments flown on other missions, that will help determine what form the water is in and how much is present. The second instrument is a multispectral thermal imager that will measure the temperature and the physical and chemical properties of the lunar surface where water is observed. The mission will study and map water on the lunar surface for one year from an orbit of 100 km.

The end result would be a high-resolution map — at 100 meters per pixel — that charts the form, abundance and distribution of water while also collecting information about the environments where that water exists. The mission’s leaders hope that such information could not only fill in the gaps of our understanding of the Moon but also chart a course for future human exploration.

“Each of these concepts holds the promise to deliver big science in a small package,” said NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen. “Their miniaturized size enables these systems to be developed at reduced overall costs while performing targeted science missions and testing brand new technologies that future missions can use.”

The finalists were chosen from 12 proposals submitted in 2018 through an opportunity called the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx). The mission will now receive funding for up to one year followed by a NASA preliminary design review. At that time, NASA will determine when and if it will be selected for a flight.

The principal investigator for Lunar Trailblazer is Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab will provide project management.

Media contact: Geoff Brown, 240-228-5618, Geoffrey.Brown@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.