All last week, Doug Ellison filed reports from the third European Planetary Science Congress, also known as Europlanet, taking place in Münster, Germany. Doug is the dictator-for-life of the online forum unmannedspaceflight.com. Thanks, Doug! --ESL
On Friday Professor Manabu Kato, science manager for Kaguya gave an update on the mission (which it seems they still refer to as "Selene," given the layout of his Powerpoint slides). Most of you will have heard of and about Kaguya previously -- but a health report is certainly overdue!
Kaguya is probably most well known for carrying HDTV technology to the moon to record high definition video of flying over the lunar surface, and image Earth setting and rising over the limb of the Moon. To date, 60 minutes of HDTV footage has been downlinked. All the instruments except two are functioning well, the unspecified trouble being with the X-ray Spectrometer and Charged Particle Spectrometer.
Kato showed a global Gamma Ray spectra that showed very strong spikes in uranium, aluminium, potassium, silicon, thorium, oxygen, titanium, and iron (see this abstract for more details ). They have had interruptions on GRS use, so to date have about three months of good analysis, and will build better-resolution maps of elemental distribution as time allows.
Their laser altimeter elevation data is at a coarser resolution, but they now have global coverage. This was demonstrated with both a single profile across a 2.5-kilometer-deep crater, and a stunningly sharp global elevation map. In a way similar to the radar sounding of Mars conducted by SHARAD on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MARSIS on Mars Express, Kaguya is getting radar profiles of the lunar surface. This was actually done previously by the Apollo command and service modules, but only in a few small equatorial regions and at a relatively low resolution of three kilometers per pixel. Kaguya is getting profiles at 500 meters per pixel, and they are trying to calibrate to better understand the signals they are getting.
Kaguya deployed two sub-satellites while maneuvering into its final orbit, and by using Kaguya, the sub-satellites and the ground station as a four-way radio network, high-resolution gravity field maps have been produced of the near side and, uniquely, the far side. The gravity map showed some localized gravitational highs on the near side, but the far side is noisier, with highs at large crater rims. Apollo crater is a local gravity low, whereas Mare Serenitatis is a high gravity anomaly. The first of the sub-satellites will impact the moon next February, on the lunar far side. It is because of the slightly lumpy nature of the very gravity field it's designed to map that its orbit will decay.
Kaguya is clearly getting very, very good science, and as the first spacecraft of the International Lunar Decade, it's setting a high bar for the missions that have already followed, and are yet to join in. There is not a great deal of finished science to be drawn from