NASA Announces a New Gravity Field Mission to the Moon

Just in case you’d forgotten that the focus is going to be on the Moon for the next few decades, here’s another mission announcement: the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL). Due to launch in 2011, this mission will fly a pair of spacecraft around the Moon to measure its gravity field in precise detail. By the time GRAIL’s done with the Moon, we’ll know every lump and bump 1,000 times better than before

This new mission was announced by NASA on December 10th at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The mission was selected out of a possible two dozen proposals.

If all goes well, the two spacecraft will launch together some time around September 6, 2011 transferring directly into a lunar orbit. After a few days of orbiting, they’ll conduct a 90-day study of the Moon’s gravity field.

This mission will be very similar to NASA’s previously launched Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). These twin spacecraft were launched 5 years ago, and have measured the Earth’s gravity field in incredible detail. It allows scientists to track melting glaciers, and the changes in the Earth’s crust after powerful earthquakes.

GRAIL will measure the gravity field at certain points around the Moon, finding any changes which are 1 million times less than the Earth’s overall gravity. This data should be about 1,000 times better than the best gravity maps ever made of the Moon.

NASA is estimating that the total budget for the project will be $375 million, including design, development, launch and staffing.

In addition to the handy gravity field information, GRAIL should give scientists better information about the formation of the Moon and the rest of the rocky planets in the Solar System.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release