Spectrometer to look for water on moon

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Ocean Optics is providing a spectrometer for an upcoming Nasa mission to the Moon’s south pole. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCross) will carry the Ocean Optics equipment, nicknamed Alice, to help analyse the composition of the lunar craters, with the goal of locating water below the moon’s surface.

Working closely with Aurora Design & Technology, the company developing the reflectance viewing optics for the mission. A custom-built spectrometer was made around Ocean Optics’ QE65000 model to meet NASA’s exacting specifications.

Ocean Optics’ technology is able to achieve up to 90 per cent quantum efficiency (defined as how efficiently a photon is converted to a photoelectron) with high signal-to-noise and rapid signal processing speed.

The LCross mission, set to launch in 2008, will send a rocket crashing into the Moon at more than twice the speed of a bullet, which will generate a 2.2 million-pound plume of matter. Another spacecraft carrying Alice will then fly through this cloud, looking for signs of water and other compounds.

Alice will measure the reflectivity of the plume as it rises into the sunlight, enabling scientists to distinguish between water vapour, water ice, and hydrated minerals (such as salts or clays) with molecularly bound water. The unit’s back-thinned detector makes the most of the available light, a critical feature as the measurements will be taken from the dark region of the moon where light is scarce.

The mission could find water hidden deep in the Moon’s craters that would provide drinking water for future manned missions to the moon. It could even form the basis of rocket fuel, laying the foundation for the moon as a staging point for further space exploration.

To survive the harsh conditions of the lunar mission, Alice was designed to withstand extreme temperature ranges as well as significant shock and vibration. It has already passed pre-flight testing.