Earlier this month, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) delivered a key scientific instrument to Lockheed Martin Space in Colorado, and engineers integrated it into a small satellite.
The instrument, dubbed the High-resolution Volatiles and Minerals Moon Mapper (HVM3), is one of two scientific instruments on the Lunar Trailblazer.
HVM3 will detect and map water on the Moon’s surface to determine its amount, location, shape, and study how that water changes over time.
The Lunar Trailblazer was selected by NASA’s Small Innovative Planetary Exploration Missions (SIMPLEx) program in 2019. Its width with fully deployed solar panels is only 3.5 meters.
Although past observations have confirmed that there is water on the Moon’s surface, little is known about its distribution or shape.
HVM3 will fill this knowledge gap by mapping the spectral fingerprints of various water forms across the lunar landscape.
The HVM3 has two key features that make it different from other spectrometers. First, it is able to detect a wide range of infrared wavelengths, which are easily absorbed by various forms of water.
Secondly, HVM3 is designed to be sensitive to low light levels, which will be critical for detecting water that can be found in dark craters on the Moon.
“Measuring permanently shadowed regions of the lunar surface will be the most challenging part of the mission,” said David R. Thompson, JPL Senior Scientist and HVM3 Instrumentation Specialist.
“To observe any ice at the bottom of those craters that have not seen sunlight for ages, we will use diffuse light from nearby illuminated crater walls.”
Solar photons reflect or scatter off the illuminated slopes of the crater and are redirected to the permanently shaded floor.
This light can be over a thousand times dimmer than direct sunlight, requiring exceptional instrument sensitivity.
While HVM3 searches for water, the Lunar Thermal Mapper, the second instrument on the Lunar Trailblazer mission, is exploring the thermal properties of the Moon’s surface.
Together, they will provide scientists with more information about how surface temperatures affect the distribution of water on the Moon.
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