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Lunar mission 'Made in Germany' to give unique view of the Moon

The latest plans for the Lunar Exploration Orbiter (LEO), a German lunar mission due for launch in 2012, will be presented on Wednesday 22nd August at the European Planetary Science Congress, Potsdam.

Professor Ralf Jaumann, from the German aerospace centre DLR, said, "The Lunar Exploration Orbiter will be a unique mission. It will consist of two spacecraft flying in formation and taking simultaneous measurements, which will give us the first three-dimensional view of the Moon's magnetic and gravitation field.

It will also give us the first opportunity to study these fields on the far site of the Moon. In addition, LEO will give us a very detailed picture of the lunar surface and also insight into the structure of the lunar regolith, layers of crushed rocks that extend about 100 metres beneath the lunar surface, and the boundary with the bed-rock beneath."

The main satellite, which will weigh about 700 kilograms, is paired with a small sub-satellite, which weighs about 150 kilograms and will carry duplicates of the experiments to measure the lunar gravitational and magnetic fields. At present, feasibility studies for construction of the satellite and sub-satellite are being carried out by the German industry. Following the presentation of their results in October, a final, costed mission proposal will be presented to the German government.

The main satellite will carry a microwave radar that will give provide a new 'view' beneath the lunar surface up to a depth of a few hundred metres. At maximum depths the radar will be able to resolve structures two metres across and within the top two metres it will show the formation of the regolith on a millimetre scale. Professor Jaumann said, "The the layering in the lunar regolith is caused by impacts, which scatter material across the Moon's surface. Our radar experiment will reveal the distribution of rocks and particles in minute detail near the surface and will allow us to reveal the history of impacts on the Moon as we probe to increasing depths."

LEO will also carry remote sensing instruments that will create data for high resolution maps of the entire lunar surface in stereo and multispectral bands. The mission is planned to last four years, which means that there will be opportunities to create multiple stereo views of the Moon. This long duration also means that LEO can also study identify new impacts on the surface, both by looking for new fresh craters and detecting impact events and dust directly with the flash detection camera, SPOSH. Professor Jaumann said, "Altogether, the Lunar Exploration Orbiter concept is technologically challenging but feasible."

With LEO, the team hopes to further establish Germany as a key player among space-faring nations and demonstrate expertise and technological know-how "Made in Germany".

"With its high profile, LEO should encourage the growing acceptance of space exploration in Germany and will capture the imagination of the general public," said Professor Jaumann.

During the European Planetary Science Congress the scientific concept of LEO and some fundamental questions regarding the Moon will also be outlined in a public lecture in Potsdam, entitled "To the Moon and beyond: German and European perspectives in space research". The lecture will take place on Tuesday 21st August at 19:30 and will be given by Professor Tilman Spohn, a geophysicist and director of DLR's Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin.

"The LEO mission fits well in the global initiatives for lunar exploration. Our closest celestial neighbour, the Moon has been scientifically neglected since the Apollo times. But there's so much to learn about the first eons of the solar system and the evolution of the Earth itself," said Professor Spohn.

Anita Heward | alfa
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