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Explained: NASA’s ‘LRO’, which may help ISRO figure out Chandrayaan-2 Vikram Lander’s fate on Moon

The LRO is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon. It studies the Moon's surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.

Written by Yashee , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 17, 2019 8:44:54 am
Explained: NASA's 'LRO', which may help ISRO figure out Vikram's fate on the Moon NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is likely to release images it takes of Vikram, the American media has reported. (Source: nasa.gov)

ISRO’S attempts to figure out what happened to Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram will get a boost on Tuesday, when a NASA spacecraft flies over the lander’s landing site on the Moon. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is likely to release images it takes of Vikram, the American media has reported.

NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organisation,” spaceflightnow.com quoted Noah Petro, the LRO’s project scientist, as saying.

So, what is NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)?

The LRO is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon. It studies the Moon’s surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.

According to NASA: “The primary mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was to measure the entire lunar surface to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the Moon with ~50-centimeter resolution images to aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions. In addition, LRO would map the polar regions and search for the presence of water ice.”

Since when has the LRO been doing this job?

More than 10 years now. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions began on June 18, 2009. LRO entered lunar orbit on June 23, 2009. In September 2010, LRO completed its primary mapping mission and began an extended science mission around the Moon, with its responsibility transferred to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

According to the NASA: “The mission has provided technical innovations and made surprising discoveries that have changed our view of the Moon. The instruments on board the spacecraft return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo.

However, there has been particular emphasis on the polar regions of the moon where continuous access to solar illumination may be possible and the prospect of water in the permanently shadowed regions at the poles may exist.”

It is estimated that the LRO has fuel enough to stay on its mission for at least six more years.

READ | Hard landing may have disabled Vikram lander’s communication system: Former ISRO scientists

And what has the LRO achieved so far?

According to NASA, some of LRO’s technical innovations include the first global thermal mapping of a planetary body covering a full range of local times and seasons, the first bi-static radar imaging measurements from Earth to a planetary orbiter, and more than five years of laser altimetric measurements yielding more than 8 billion topographic points, better than any other object in the Solar System.

On March 15, 2011, LRO provided more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to its Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public.

“LRO continues to this day to deliver data to the PDS, having generated the largest volume of data from a NASA planetary science mission ever,” NASA says.

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