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The University of Reading aids pioneering research in hunt for future landing sites on the Moon

19 June 2009

Optical components developed by scientists from the University of Reading form a key part of the instrumentation on the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) (LRO) recently launched from Cape Canaveral that will pave the way for a return to the Moon by US astronauts. Data gathered by LRO will help mission planners select future landing sites and scout locations for lunar outposts. Dr Gary Hawkins and his team from the University's Infrared Multilayer Laboratory, in collaboration with Oxford University, have designed and manufactured miniature optical filters for the Diviner experiment to measure surface and sub-surface temperatures from orbit. It will identify cold traps and potential ice deposits, as well as map surface terrain, detect rock compositions and abundance together with finding other landing hazards.

The Diviner experiment is a joint US-UK development project between the JPL, California Institute of Technology and Oxford University Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics. The Infrared Laboratory team were responsible for the design and manufacture of high precision infrared filters in LRO that will be used to precisely select and isolate the different parts of the infrared spectrum to be measured. The objective of Diviner is to measure lunar surface temperatures at scales that provide essential information for future surface operations and exploration. The temperature of the lunar surface and sub-surface is a critical environmental parameter for future human and robotic exploration. The laboratory has a unique heritage for the supply of infrared optics to space-flight programmes since the mid-1960's.

LRO will enter a low polar orbit around the Moon at an altitude of around 50km (31 miles) - the closest any spacecraft has continually orbited Earth's natural satellite. It will spend at least one year orbiting the Moon, using its six instruments to collect detailed information about the lunar environment.

"The development and successful fabrication of these high precision filters have demanded a unique combination of innovative techniques. We are delighted that our contribution is helping pave the way for future exploration."

Similar filters have been successfully plotting the climate of Mars on the Mars Climate Sounder for the past 2 years building up daily global weather maps to show the basic variables of Martian weather such as temperature, pressure, humidity and dust density. This included a forecast of a major dust storm in March.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Launch