The Return to the Moon is a renewed focus on lunar exploration that has emerged in recent years. ESA sent its Smart 1 spacecraft to the
Moon (see separate Kent web pages at) and Kent helped with that mission by predicting the end of life impact of
that spacecraft onto the lunar surface.
But in the years to come there will be much more activity involving lunar science. NASA has a range of lunar missions planned, as do India
and potentially China. In the case of NASA, there will be a series of missions which are intended to climax with a new manned landing
campaign. The NASA Constellation programme (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/main/index.html)
includes a new series of launch vehicles (Ares), a new crew capsule (Orion) and a lunar lander (Altair). Eventually the missions will led
to future manned missions to Mars. In the short term however, (2010-2020) the road is to the Moon.
Kent is already involved with the new lunar programmes via participation in a series of NASA led programmes to develop new impact sensors.
Why impact sensors? Any long term habitation structures on the lunar surface will be peppered with impacts just like the International
Space Station in Earth orbit. There will be no atmosphere on the moon to shield the structures against impacts by small objects. Indeed
occasional impacts by larger bodies anywhere on the lunar surface will produce ejecta which will then rain down on the surrounding
surface, including the habitats. Protecting the new lunar architecture against impact damage will be a serious design goal for NASA. This
requires new sensors which can be embedded in structural materials and give real time readout of the impact flux, and new sensors to be
deployed early in the return cycle to monitor and measure the lunar impact flux to aid in the design work. This in turn will be backed up
by laboratory testing of new sensors and new structures.
Impact work has already started at a variety of labs in the US and at Kent. We are collaborating with NASA, the US Naval Research
Laboratory, US Naval Academy, Virginia Tech. on a series of projects. Using the Kent two stage light gas gun we have conducted 3 series of
tests already with more planned.
There are currently 3 main projects:
- DRAGONS (USNA - PI) which is to develop a new impact sensor technology of deployment on satellites (initially in Earth orbit to
characterise the orbital debris environment at 800-900km)
- OCE-MMSE (NASA Orbital Debris Programme Office - PI) to develop an impact sensor with acoustic capabilities which can characterise the
micrometeoroid environment on the lunar surface and which could be embedded in structures.
- FOMIS (NASA Orbital Debris Programme Office - PI) to develop a large area impact sensor based on a drum like surface which vibrates
after impact, to characterise the micrometeoroid environment on the lunar surface.