Oxford-Developed Specialized Camera Will Search for Water on the Moon

Lunar Trailblazer

NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer satellite has been equipped with a new Thermal Mapper instrument that was developed by scientists at Oxford and will play an important role in the satellite’s goal of searching for signs of water on the Moon.

The Lunar Thermal Mapper (LTM) joins the Minerals Moon Mapper (HVM3) that will together allow scientists to determine the location, form, and abundance of water on the Moon. The Lunar Trailblazer will use the LTM to specifically gather temperature data of the lunar surface as well as the composition of the rocks and soils, which will inform the HVM3 to look for water based on that data.

“The Lunar Trailblazer mission will improve our understanding of our natural satellite and how we could harness its resources to support exploration in the future,” Libby Jackson, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, says. “Backing missions and capabilities that will drive opportunities for humanity to venture deeper into space is one of our priorities, so it’s exciting to see the LTM instrument ready for launch.”

The LTM is a miniaturized thermal infrared multispectral imager made up of a five-mirror telescope and optical system and an uncooled microbolometer detector array. It has four temperature channels that allow for the identification of cold traps as well as surface temperature.

Lunar Trailblazer

NASA explains that when the Lunar Trailblazer arrives in orbit around the moon — it won’t launch into space until at least early 2024 — it will use the HVM3 to map “spectral fingerprints” — wavelengths of reflected sunlight — of the different forms of water on the surface. It will then employ the LTM to scan those mapped regions at the same time to form an image of what can be used to give a full picture of the temperature on the surface.

“By measuring the same locations at different times of day, Lunar Trailblazer will determine if the amount of water changes on this airless body,” NASA says.

“LTM will provide maps of lunar surface temperature from about minus 265 degrees to 266 Fahrenheit (minus 165 degrees to 130 Celsius) using four broadband infrared channels. The instrument will scan the lunar surface to form a multispectral image as the spacecraft orbits above. At the same time, 11 narrow infrared channels also map small variations in the composition of silicate minerals that make up the rocks and regolith of the Moon’s surface, providing more information about what the lunar surface is made of and how this may influence the amount of water present.”

The Lunar Trailblazer, now equipped with the LTM, is undergoing final assembly and testing at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. It is getting closer to being ready to ship to Florida for final launch preparations.

Image Credits: Lockheed Martin Space