South Korean Moon Probe’s Epic Photo of NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Leaves the World in Awe
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been an active participant in the exploration of the moon since its launch in 2009. Its mission has been to provide detailed maps and images of the lunar surface, aiding in the study of lunar geology and the planning of future manned missions. Recently, however, the LRO found itself on the other side of the lens, captured in a stunning image by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s (KARI) Danuri spacecraft.
The Unexpected Encounter in Lunar Orbit
In mid-December 2022, the Danuri spacecraft arrived in lunar orbit, carrying with it the NASA-funded ShadowCam. This hypersensitive optical imager is designed to provide views into shadowed areas of the moon by collecting light reflected off nearby landforms and light reflected from our planet onto the moon, a phenomenon known as “Earthshine.”
In a remarkable display of coordination and timing, ShadowCam captured a sunlit LRO as both spacecraft passed over a patch of moon shrouded in darkness. The two spacecraft zipped by each other at a relative velocity of 7,113 mph (11,447 kph), a distance of just 11.2 miles (18 kilometers) separating them.
The Art of Capturing a Spacecraft in Flight
The task of capturing the LRO in flight was not a simple one. The NASA LRO mission operations team at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland had to carefully orient the spacecraft relative to Danuri and the sun. This allowed the radiator and back of the spacecraft to be brightly illuminated, making it visible to the ShadowCam.
The high speed of the near encounter and the exposure time of ShadowCam resulted in the LRO being doubly exposed four times in the final image. This image, a testament to the precision and skill of the teams involved, showcases the LRO’s solar array, radiator, and high-gain antenna.
ShadowCam: Illuminating the Lunar South Pole
ShadowCam, based on LRO’s powerful main camera, is being used to learn about shadowed areas at the lunar south pole ahead of NASA’s Artemis 3 mission. This mission, which aims to land astronauts near the south pole, will mark the first crewed return to the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in 1972.
By mapping out permanently shadowed areas, ShadowCam is playing a crucial role in ensuring the success of the Artemis 3 mission. Meanwhile, Danuri has other cameras aboard, which have recently captured epic views of iconic lunar features.
Satellite Imagery: A Tool for Spacecraft Health Check
Closer to home, a Maxar Earth-observation satellite recently captured an up-close look at NASA’s Landsat 8 space-craft in low Earth orbit. This demonstrates how satellite imagery can be used for potentially checking out the health or causes of issues for satellites.
The ability to image active space-craft, whether in lunar orbit or closer to home, opens up new possibilities for monitoring and maintaining the health of these vital tools of exploration and observation. As our presence in space continues to grow, so too will the importance of these ‘space selfies’, providing a unique perspective on our ongoing journey into the cosmos. read in detailed Here