SMD will assume operational control and tasking of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) after it completes its one-year prime mission for ESMD in early 2010. A program to competitively select and engage participating scientists to plan this phase of LRO operations is already underway.
LRO is the first mission in NASA's plan to return to the moon and then to travel to Mars and beyond. LRO will launch in late 2008 with the objectives to finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology.
The spacecraft will be placed in low polar orbit (50 km) for a 1-year mission under NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. LRO will return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon's UV albedo. However there is particular emphasis on the polar regions of the moon where continuous access to solar illumination may be possible and the prospect of water in the permanently shadowed regions at the poles may exist. Although the objectives of LRO are explorative in nature, the payload includes instruments with considerable heritage from previous planetary science missions, enabling transition, after one year, to a science phase under NASA's Science Mission Directorate.