Research by the JHU/APL Team is focused on the Moon’s poles. When our team began this integrated research project, the lunar polar regions were regarded as “Luna incognita,” the unknown Moon. During the last three years we have furthered our understanding of the polar regions so that they are now as well known, and in some case better known, than the rest of the Moon. ”Luna incognita” has become “luna cognita.”

There are still many things we don’t know about the Moon – especially when it comes to our potential to work and live on our closest planetary neighbor. NASA established its Lunar Science Institute to explore the mysteries of the Moon and to train the next generation of lunar explorers. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has an important role in NLSI: to discover the scientific and exploration potential of the lunar poles, which preserve a record of the early history of the solar system and hold significant promise for human settlement.

The APL-led team will answer four questions:
1. What is the environment like at the Moon’s poles?
2. What are the properties of the surface and subsurface of the Moon?
3. How can we conduct surface operations, such as drilling and excavating, on the Moon?
4. What instruments would humans and robots need to explore the Moon?

Our research has addressed several high priority science concepts from the NRC Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon (SCEM) report, supports the goals of the Planetary Decadal Survey, and can be divided into three themes: (1) Lunar Polar Environment, which includes geology, illumination, volatile transport modeling, and volatile-regolith laboratory studies. (2) Surface Characterization, and (3) Surface Science, Instrumentation, and Operations, which includes excavation and mobility modeling, ground penetrating radar data, neutron studies, and Earth observation.

By design, there is substantial overlap across topics, with each providing information to the others to facilitate a deeper, more thorough understanding of the questions that are posed. Collaboration has been a key aspect of our research. A wealth of new data have been produced by an armada of spacecraft, including India’s Chandrayaan-1 and Japan’s Kaguya mission as well as the NASA LRO and LCROSS missions, to provide new insight into the processes and history of the lunar poles. In addition to the natural collaboration between team members, our work has benefited by the successful collaboration with other NLSI teams as well as other US and international scientists and engineers.

Read the team summary report for years 1-3

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SSERVI Science Teams

  • Observations of the lunar impact plume from the LCROSS event


    McMath‐Pierce telescope observed sodium (Na) emission from LCROSS impact on October 9, 2009.When the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) impacted Cabeus crater on October 9th, it pitched up frozen water along with some sodium, astronomers reported today.

    According to the LCROSS team, the impact event pitched up about 660 pounds of water frozen on the bottom of the crater. NLSI researcher R. M. Killen at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center reported that the plume also contained about 3.3 pounds of sodium chloride.

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NLSI Inspiration Room

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The Apollo missions brought back 842 pounds of lunar samples to analyze in labs on Earth.

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