UCF professor among team working with one-of-a-kind camera going to the moon

Research could help pave the way for future exploration

ORLANDO, Fla. – Kerri Donaldson Hanna is a University of Central Florida physics professor working with NASA to discover what rocks and the soil on the moon’s south pole surface contain -- research that could be key for future human and robotic exploration.

“Looking at the thermal data, we can tell how compact or how fluffy the regolith is, which will really be important for knowing what kind of tools we need to develop if we’re going to drill down into the lunar surface,” Donaldson Hanna said.

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The UCF physics professor is a co-investigator working along with principal investigator from the University of Colorado Boulder professor Paul Hayne on NASA’s Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS). It’s a project in partnership with Ball Aerospace.

The one-of-a-kind camera is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program.

“With thermal infrared data, we can actually get to really important properties of any planetary surface. But for the moon, we’re interested in understanding what minerals are making up the rocks and regolith that we see around the landing site,” Donaldson Hanna said. “Around the lander, we’ll want to map temperature variations and find locations that are cold enough to hold water and other volatiles. We have seen evidence for water in the south pole of the moon, and so, that’s really the main driver behind the first lander going to the south pole of the moon.”

Donaldson Hanna, who has previously worked on two previous lunar surface observations projects, said the images from the south pole of the moon’s surface are significant because of the water found there.

“Obviously being able to map and know where things are cold enough to hold water. That’ll give astronauts and rovers the ability to know where to search for water and of course, this water can be used as a resource for humans but can also be used as a resource for rockets or fuel,” she said.

The camera will ride along with one of three robotic landers that will touch down on the lunar surface, a key step in NASA’s goal of sending people back to the moon by 2024.

“To see, gradually over time the interest in lunar science picking up and really now we’re, you know, at the height of this interest of sending humans back and getting more samples from the surface and it’s just really a thrilling time to see kind of what I started at grad school ramping up and getting more and more exciting and interesting,” she said.

The thermal infrared camera is scheduled to head to the moon in late 2022.

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