NASA iceberg-finder prangs into Moon's south pole

Place where sun doesn't shine probed


Update NASA has successfully crashed a spent rocket stage and accompanying probe-craft into the Cabeus crater in the lunar antarctic. Space-agency boffins are now eagerly harvesting a flood of data from telescopes, orbiters and the probe itself in order to find out if valuable water ice has been discovered by the impact.

Here's a rather groovy vid from NASA outlining the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission and the tricky loop-the-loop manoeuvres the spacecraft have had to perform about Earth and its satellite to line up for their high-angle, high-speed crash into the Cabeus crater today.

LCROSS is primarily intended to see if there might be deposits of water ice lying frozen in the sunless crater bottoms of the lunar south pole. Though it has recently been revealed that there are tiny amounts of water present all over the moon's surface, immense amounts of regolith (dirt) would have to processed to extract it. Crater-bottom icebergs would be hugely easier to exploit.

This is important, as having a source of water on the Moon would make all activity in space much easier and more affordable. Not only would astronauts in lunar bases have water to drink and to make breathing oxygen from; hydrogen and oxygen from moon water could also be used to produce rocket fuel.

Lunar rocket fuel could be used for return missions to Earth, hugely increasing what could be carried on outbound journeys. It would also be possible to use it for longhaul trips beyond the Earth-Moon system, to Mars or the asteroids. Moon juice would also be hugely valuable for operations in Earth orbit, as it would be easier to get it there than it is to boost it up through Earth's powerful gravity well and troublesome atmosphere. Some have even suggested that lunar rocket-fuel factories could turn a tidy profit selling their product to satellite operators above Earth.

At present, when a satellite runs out of fuel it has to be de-orbited and destroyed: in-orbit refuelling from Earth has been trialled, but would be hugely expensive compared to supplies from the Moon.

The Centaur rocket-stage after separating from the LCROSS shepherd, viewed in the shepherd's IR camera. Credit: NASA

In you go, we're right behind you

All in all, then, the presence or absence of exploitable water on the Moon is very important for humanity's future in space. The freezing crater deeps of the lunar poles are easily cold enough that water ice could exist there more or less permanently, and there are ways it could have got there - but has it? Nobody knows.

That's where LCROSS comes in. The twin craft's smash into the crater deeps will have released as much energy as a ton and a half of TNT detonating: the mighty debris plume is even now being scanned by an array of earth-based telescopes and others in orbit around Earth and the Moon. In addition, the follower spacecraft sent copious analysis of the cloud in its final moments as it fell through it. If there's water in the plume, this mighty array of instruments will detect it.

NASA anticipates a data download from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter passing above the strike in a couple of hours, and will offer some immediate comment later today. The word on presence or absence of water isn't expected to be firm until after the weekend, however. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Colocation consolidation: Analysts look at what's driving the feeding frenzy
    Sometimes a half-sized shipping container at the base of a cell tower is all you need

    Analysis Colocation facilities aren't just a place to drop a couple of servers anymore. Many are quickly becoming full-fledged infrastructure-as-a-service providers as they embrace new consumption-based models and place a stronger emphasis on networking and edge connectivity.

    But supporting the growing menagerie of value-added services takes a substantial footprint and an even larger customer base, a dynamic that's driven a wave of consolidation throughout the industry, analysts from Forrester Research and Gartner told The Register.

    "You can only provide those value-added services if you're big enough," Forrester research director Glenn O'Donnell said.

    Continue reading
  • D-Wave deploys first US-based Advantage quantum system
    For those that want to keep their data in the homeland

    Quantum computing outfit D-Wave Systems has announced availability of an Advantage quantum computer accessible via the cloud but physically located in the US, a key move for selling quantum services to American customers.

    D-Wave reported that the newly deployed system is the first of its Advantage line of quantum computers available via its Leap quantum cloud service that is physically located in the US, rather than operating out of D-Wave’s facilities in British Columbia.

    The new system is based at the University of Southern California, as part of the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center hosted at USC’s Information Sciences Institute, a factor that may encourage US organizations interested in evaluating quantum computing that are likely to want the assurance of accessing facilities based in the same country.

    Continue reading
  • Bosses using AI to hire candidates risk discriminating against disabled applicants
    US publishes technical guide to help organizations avoid violating Americans with Disabilities Act

    The Biden administration and Department of Justice have warned employers using AI software for recruitment purposes to take extra steps to support disabled job applicants or they risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    Under the ADA, employers must provide adequate accommodations to all qualified disabled job seekers so they can fairly take part in the application process. But the increasing rollout of machine learning algorithms by companies in their hiring processes opens new possibilities that can disadvantage candidates with disabilities. 

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the DoJ published a new document this week, providing technical guidance to ensure companies don't violate ADA when using AI technology for recruitment purposes.

    Continue reading
  • How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency
    Your US tax dollars at work

    The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

    The research took two years and included "hundreds" of Freedom of Information Act requests, along with reviews of ICE's contracting and procurement records. It details how ICE surveillance spending jumped from about $71 million annually in 2008 to about $388 million per year as of 2021. The network it has purchased with this $2.8 billion means that "ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency" and its methods cross "legal and ethical lines," the report concludes.

    ICE did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

    Continue reading
  • Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO
    You robot kids, get off my LAN

    AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company’s Global Summit this week.

    “I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing,” he said. “It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that… but that's exactly what we should be wishing for.”

    Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking’s evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022