Data will be used with specialist software to analyse likely landing sites for future trips

Six months after the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter starts transmitting back data, ground operations company United Space Alliance and its partner NASA Goddard Space Flight Center expect to be able to plan human lunar missions.

The orbiter, to be launched on 31 October 2008, will produce such a detailed topography of the Moon it will enable NASA to create a new Universal Lunar Coordinate Network (ULCN) map of the surface. That could be used for lander operations planning. The ULCN could also be adopted as a global standard for the international exploration strategy currently being discussed by the world's space agencies.

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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will create detailed Moon topography

Goddard and United Space Alliance intend to use the orbiter's data, and information from previous missions such as Clementine, with United's Questus software suite to analyse likely landing targets and issues surrounding other mission phases including extravehicular activities. "We can calculate communication resources from lunar and Earth orbit," says USA independent research and development director Gerald Miller. NASA has said it expects to have a communications constellation around the Moon.

The team has already simulated lighting levels for June 2019 to examine landing and spacewalking options at the Moon's Dawes crater, for which it has topographical information. For the simulation Dawes was moved to the polar Shackleton crater, one of NASA's target landing areas, to better simulate likely conditions there. For future models the data from Indian lunar robotic mission Chandrayaan-1, which will carry NASA instruments, could be included.

The Questus suite could be used by lunar astronauts as well as mission control. United is to use the tools to shadow the International Space Station expedition 15 crew from the start of the next Shuttle mission. ISS mission planning is now done manually.


Source: Flight International