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Ocean Optics leaves its mark on the Moon

02 Jul 2009

The optical sensing vendor has supplied a spectrometer for NASA's LCROSS lunar mission.

A custom-designed spectrometer from Ocean Optics, US, forms part of the scientific payload on NASA's LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission, now on its way to the Moon on board a Centaur rocket. The instrument, known as ALICE, will help to analyse the make-up of lunar craters, with the goal of locating water below the Moon's surface.

After arrival in lunar orbit, the payload will separate from the carrier rocket, which will then deliberately crash into the surface to generate a plume of ejected matter. ALICE will then fly through the plume, looking for signs of water and other compounds.

ALICE will measure the reflectivity of the ejecta cloud as it rises into the sunlight, enabling scientists to distinguish between water vapour, water ice, and hydrated minerals with molecularly bound water. The instrument's wavelength range of 270–650 nm and an optical resolution of less than 1.0 nm, should allow detection of ionized water, OH radicals and carbon-containing molecules.

The spectrometer is a development of Ocean Optics' QE65000 instrument, modified in order to survive the harsh conditions of the mission, such as extreme temperature ranges, radiation, and significant shock and vibration. Partners included Aurora Design & Technology, which developed the reflectance viewing optics for the mission.

This is the second NASA collaboration for Ocean Optics. A unit designed around the company's HR-Series spectrometers will be part of the 2009 ChemCam Mars mission to study rock and soil composition on the red planet.

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