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Potential Exploration Mission Science and Exploration Objectives

David Kring
Human Exploration & Destination Drivers
Delivered As: 
Abstract Text: 

The Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) provide new capabilities for exploring deep space. A series of Exploration Missions (EMs) with those vehicles are being planned for cis-lunar space to validate spacecraft performance and evaluate crew health performance. Those efforts will be important contributions to the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER), which includes extended duration crew missions and humans to the lunar surface. In the initial EMs, I suggest Orion be outfitted with a high-definition camera to image the Moon during 100 km altitude passes over the lunar surface, an additional camera to detect impact flashes on the farside and/or in the nighttime hemisphere to complement ground-based measurements of the nearside, radiation detectors for measurements external to and within the Orion crew capsule to test crew exposure models, a receiver to make modern measurements of radio noise on the lunar farside for comparison with an RAE-2 occultation of Earth in 1973, and a communication asset that can be deployed into orbit for future farside relay. More complex missions that follow can integrate humans in orbit with robotic assets on the lunar surface. The feasibility and productivity of an Orion L2-farside sample return mission involving a 30 km traverse (Potts et al., Adv. Space Res. 55, 1241-1254, 2015) and an astrophysical mission that deploys a radio antenna (Burns et al., Adv. Space Res. 52, 306-320, 2013) have previously been studied. Those scenarios will be enhanced if Orion has sufficient bandwidth to accommodate high data rates, including high-definition video from the lunar surface. Once an orbiting facility at the Earth-Moon L2 position is available, then longer duration farside sample return missions as envisioned by the HERACLES concept (Landgraf et al., LEAG Mtg., Abstract #2039, 2015; Steenstra et al., Adv. Space Res., submitted) can be implemented. That activity has the capacity to traverse 100 to 300 km and return to Earth 30 to 60 kg of material needed for geologic and in situ resource studies. Historically, two dozen successful missions have explored the lunar nearside surface. None have landed on the farside, so that vast region of unexplored territory is an obvious target of interest. A global landing site study (Kring and Durda, LPI Contrib. 1694, 2012) found that the Schrödinger basin, within the South Pole-Aitken basin on the lunar farside, has the greatest potential for scientific return. Multi-element missions can subsequently target other farside destinations within the South Pole-Aitken basin, either robotically or with humans using Lunar Electric Rovers (LERs). Human-assisted robotic missions will revalidate our ability to land on and traverse the lunar surface, ascend to and rendezvous in lunar orbit, and return samples to Earth, all of which are essential capabilities to be developed for the GER. In addition, the installation of an orbiting facility and assembly of robotic elements at L2 will validate deep space assembly operations (a Mars-forward capability), while developing the capability for crew to tele-operate surface assets (a Mars-forward technology) and demonstrating a series of crew health performance capabilities (e.g., deconditioning countermeasures, space radiation protection and monitoring, habitation systems) needed for exploration beyond the cis-lunar environment.

SSERVI Identifier: 

Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts."