Robotic Lunar Exploration

The Vision for Space Exploration is fostering a renaissance in lunar science, as the return of humans to the Moon both requires and enables greater scientific understanding of Earth’s natural satellite. The NRC’s recent report “The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon” (NRC, 2007) provides a “mini-decadal survey” to guide a new line of lunar missions.  The Planetary Science Division is undertaking a number of new actions to exploit the new focus on the Moon for science:

  • Scientific exploitation of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).  SMD will assume operational control and tasking of 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.
  • Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER). The LASER program funds basic and applied lunar science. The goal of the program is to support and enhance lunar basic science and lunar exploration science as part of the Vision for Space Exploration’s (VSE) return to the Moon. The LASER program is jointly supported by SMD and ESMD.
  • Creation of the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI).  NLSI will help to reinvigorate the lunar science community via a network of competitively-selected research nodes focused on exploitation of new scientific data on the Moon for research purposes.
  • Missions of Opportunity. SMD selected the Moon Mineralology Mapper instrument as a Discovery Program Mission of Opportunity to fly in India’s Chandrayaan-1 satellite. The SALMON solicitation provides annual calls for Mission of Opportunity proposals.  The Moon’s close proximity makes it a choice target for such low cost missions.
  • A New Series of Three SMD Lunar Missions.  The FY 2009 budget request includes a new mission line for one small orbiter (the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer—LADEE) to study the tenuous lunar atmosphere and two mini-landers as nodes in an International Lunar Network (ILN) of geophysical stations.


Missions supporting this program: