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Monday, January 14, 2008

NASA's Quest to Find Water on the Moon Moves Closer to Launch

Cameras and sensors that will look for the presence of water on the moon have completed validation tests and been shipped to the manufacturer of NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

The science instruments for the satellite, which is known as LCROSS, departed NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field Calif., for the Northrop Grumman Corporation's facility in Redondo Beach, Calif. to be integrated with the spacecraft. LCROSS is scheduled to launch with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., by the end of 2008.

"The goal of the mission is to confirm the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the moon's south pole," says Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator at Ames. "The dentification of water is very important to the future of human activities on the moon."

In 2009, LCROSS will separate into two parts and create a pair of impacts on the permanently dark floor of one of the moon's polar craters. The spent Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V rocket will hit the moon, causing an explosion of material from the crater's surface. The instruments aboard the satellite will analyze the plume for the presence of water ice or water vapor, hydrocarbons and hydrated materials. The satellite then will fly through the plume on a collision course with the lunar surface. Both impacts will be visible to Earth and lunar-orbiting instruments.

Northrop Grumman is designing and building the spacecraft. After installing the instruments on the satellite, Northrop Grumman will test the entire spacecraft system to ensure it is flight worthy.

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