NASA’s spacecraft successfully impacts the Moon

The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was a robotic spacecraft operated by NASA. It was launched together with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) on June 18, 2009, as part of the shared Lunar Precursor Robotic Program.

LCROSS spacecraft, artist's rendering

LCROSS spacecraft, artist's rendering

Together, LCROSS and LRO form the vanguard of NASA’s return to the Moon, and are expected to influence United States government decisions on whether or not to colonize the Moon.

Lunar impact, after approximately three orbits, occurred on October 9, 2009, at 11:31 UTC.

In its final approach, the Shepherding Spacecraft and Centaur separated Oct. 8, 2009 at 21:50 EDT. The Centaur upper stage acted as a heavy impactor to create a debris plume that rose above the lunar surface.

 Following four minutes after impact of the Centaur upper stage, the Shepherding Spacecraft flew through this debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before impacting on the lunar surface and creating a second debris plume.

The impact velocity was projected to be over 9,000 kilometres per hour (5,600 mph); at the time of the event, impact was calculated as over 10,000 kilometres per hour (6,200 mph).

The Centaur impact is expected to have excavated more than 350 tons of lunar material and created a crater 20 m (66 feet) in diameter to a depth of 4 m (13 feet). The Shepherding Spacecraft impact is projected to have excavated an estimated 150 tonnes and created a crater 14 m (46 feet) in diameter to a depth of 2 m (6 feet). Most of the material in the Centaur debris plume should remain at (lunar) altitudes below 10 km (6.2 miles).

It is hoped that spectral analysis of the resulting impact plume will help to confirm preliminary findings by the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions which hinted that there may be water ice in the permanently shadowed regions. Mission scientists estimated that the Centaur impact plume would be visible through amateur-class telescopes with apertures as small as 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 inches).

But no plume was observed by such amateur telescopes. Even world class telescopes such as the Palomar 200 inch telescope, equipped with adaptive optics, have not evidenced the plume. The plume may have still occurred but at a small scale not detectable from earth. Both impacts were also monitored by Earth-based observatories and by orbital assets, such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Whether or not LCROSS finds water has been stated to be influential in whether or not the United States government pursues creating a Moon base.


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