ESA’s SMART-1 team has released an image of the future impact site of NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). The SMART-1 team searched through their database to find images of Cabeus A, where LCROSS will search for water ice by making two impacts into this crater at the lunar south pole. The impacts are scheduled for 11:30 and 11:34 am UT on 9 October 2009. This image was taken four years ago by SMART-1, a spacecraft that ended its mission in 2006 by deliberately crashing to the Moon, similar to what LCROSS will do, hoping to exhume materials buried under the lunar surface, particularly water ice. “This is like gathering evidence for a Crash Scene Investigation, but before the action takes place,” said Bernard Foing, SMART-1 project scientist.
Cabeus A is permanently shadowed, so ice lying inside the crater could be protected from the Sun’s harsh rays. LCROSS will send the upper stage Centaur rocket crashing into Cabeus A and a shepherd spacecraft will fly into the plume of dust generated and measure its properties before making a second impact with the lunar surface. Astronomers will observe both impacts using ground and space-based telescopes. The SMART-1 spacecraft also concluded its mission with a controlled bouncing impact on 3 September 2006. The event was observed with ground-based telescopes and the flash from the impact was detected at infrared wavelengths.
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Foing and Bjoern Grieger, the liaison scientist for SMART-1’s AIMIE camera searched through SMART-1’s database for images of Cabeus A, taken four years ago at conditions where solar elevation and direction were similar to those of LCROSS impact. The SMART-1 image is at high resolution as the spacecraft was at its closest distance of 500 km from the South Pole.
“We are pleased to contribute these ESA SMART-1 observations of the LCROSS target site in order to help in the planning and interpretation of impact observations,” said Foing. “The coordination and exchange of information between lunar missions is an important step for future exploration of the Moon. Cooperation is vital if we are ever to see ‘villages’ of robotic landers and eventual lunar bases, as recommended by the International Lunar Exploration Working Group.”