Robotic roll-out of an antenna — part of a low-frequency array of radio antennas to observe the first stars in the early universe. CREDIT: Joe Lazio/JPL

Jack Burns, director of NLSI’s Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research (LUNAR), and his team have been collaborating with Lockheed Martin (builder of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) for more than a year to plan an early Orion mission that would go into a halo orbit of the Earth-moon libration point 2 (EML-2) above the lunar far side.

“This is extremely exciting from both the exploration and science sides,” Burns said. “This mission concept seems to be really taking off now because it is unique and offers the prospects of doing something significant outside of low-Earth orbit within this decade.”

In collaboration with Lockheed-Martin, the LUNAR Center is investigating human missions to EML-2 that could be a proving ground for future missions to deep space while also overseeing scientifically important investigations.

In a LUNAR Center white paper, researchers note that an EML-2 mission would have astronauts traveling 15 percent farther from Earth than did the Apollo astronauts, and spending almost three times longer in deep space.

Such missions would validate the Orion spacecraft’s life-support systems for shorter durations, could demonstrate the high-speed re-entry capability needed for return to Earth from deep space, and could help scientists gauge astronauts’ radiation dose from cosmic rays and solar flares. Doing so would help verify that Orion provides sufficient radiation protection, as it is designed to do, researchers said.

On such missions Orion astronauts could teleoperate gear on the lunar far side. For instance, the moon-based robotic hardware could obtain samples from the geologically appealing far side — perhaps from the South Pole-Aitken basin, which is one of the largest, deepest and oldest craters in the solar system.

Also on a proposed lunar robotic agenda is deployment of a low-frequency array of radio antennas to observe the first stars in the early universe.

Among a number of research jobs, the LUNAR team has been investigating how modest equipment could be used to fuse lunar regolith into a concrete-like material, which could then be used for construction of large structures, without the expense of having to carry most of the material to the lunar surface.

The ability to fabricate hardened structures from lunar regolith could also foster on-the-spot creation of solar arrays, habitats, and radiation shielding and maybe, even roadways on the surface of the moon.


Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff

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