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LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)


Set for a 2008 launch, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is planned to orbit the moon for at least one year and gather detailed maps of the lunar surface, data on the moon's radiation levels and an in-depth look at its polar regions for resources.

Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. designed the spacecraft bus, while the instrument payload was provided by private industry. An Announcement of Opportunity for the payload was announced June 18 2004 and a final design is expected to be decided in November 2004. LRO is a measurement mission, not a science mission.

High-resolution cameras similar to those used in the one-meter resolution commercial earth observing satellites were required to photograph the lunar surface. Part of LRO's mission is to identify potential landing sites for future missions. LRO's imaging system also is expected to be able to look into permanently shadowed regions of the moon and its polar regions to look for signs of large water ice deposits.

LRO makes use of conventional technology instead of untested tools. A conventional approach also keeps costs down, an important point since the mission's total budget from development through first-year operations is set at about $90 million.

The LRO project is managed by GSFC. Goddard acquired the launch system and spacecraft, provide payload accommodations, mission systems engineering, assurance, and management.

Selected investigations:

  • LOLA (Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter Measurement Investigation) determines the global topography of the lunar surface at high resolution, measure landing site slopes and search for polar ices in shadowed regions.
  • LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) acquires targeted images of the lunar surface capable of resolving small-scale features that could be landing site hazards, as well as wide-angle images at multiple wavelengths of the lunar poles to document changing illumination conditions and potential resources.
  • LEND (Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector) maps the flux of neutrons from the lunar surface to search for evidence of water ice and provide measurements of the space radiation environment which can be useful for future human exploration.
  • Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment maps the temperature of the entire lunar surface at 300 meter horizontal scales to identify cold-traps and potential ice deposits.
  • LAMP (Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project) observes the entire lunar surface in the far ultraviolet. LAMP searches for surface ices and frosts in the polar regions and provide images of permanently shadowed regions illuminated only by starlight.
  • CRaTER (Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation) investigates the effect of galactic cosmic rays on tissue-equivalent plastics as a constraint on models of biological response to background space radiation.

The mission is constrained to the budget of a Discovery class mission, so the launch vehicle was originally limited to a Delta 2. NASA dropped in early 2005 the Delta 2 in favour of an EELV launch to avoid stability problems with its spinning third stage, growing out of the heavy fuel load needed to get to the Moon. The LRO mission gains at least 1,000 kg in capacity for the LCROSS piggyback mission.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Lunar orbiter
Operator: NASA
Contractors: Goddard Space Flight Center
Equipment: LOLA, LROC, LEND, Diviner, LAMP, CRaTER
Power: Deployable solar array, batteries
Lifetime: 2 years (planned), still active
Mass: ~1000 kg
Orbit: Lunar orbit
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
LRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) 2009-031A 18.06.2009 CC SLC-41 Atlas-5(401) with LCROSS S-S/C, LCROSS EDUS