MoonKAMs Begin Operations Aboard GRAIL Lunar Orbiters

Comments

The two MoonKAM systems before attachment to the GRAIL-A (“Ebb”) and GRAIL–B (“Flow”) spacecraft. Each system consists of a Digital Video Controller electronics unit and four separate color video cameras. (Credit: Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation.)

Pasadena, CA – March 22, 2012 – Two four-camera color video systems supplied by Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation to NASA’s dual-spacecraft Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) project have been turned on and are generating stunning video views of the Moon’s surface from a vantage point in low lunar orbit.

The video systems, called Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students (MoonKAM) by the GRAIL project, were designed, built and tested by Ecliptic and benefit from the strong heritage of Ecliptic’s popular RocketCam™ product family.  Over two-dozen similar systems have been launched on rockets and spacecraft since 2005, and all operated successfully, including RocketCam’s first lunar mission:  NASA’s LCROSS lunar impactor in 2009.
The dual MoonKAM systems are at the core of the GRAIL project’s global education and public outreach campaign, conceived by first U.S. female astronaut Sally Ride and now being executed by her science education company, San Diego-based Sally Ride Science.

GRAIL is NASA’s first interplanetary mission to carry cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach.

There are two GRAIL spacecraft, A and B, nicknamed by students as “Ebb” and “Flow,” respectively.  Each MoonKAM system consists of an electronics unit, called the Digital Video Controller, and four camera heads—one pointed slightly forward of the spacecraft, two pointed directly below it, and one pointed slightly backward.  The Digital Video Controller serves as the main interface to the spacecraft and provides storage for images acquired by the camera heads.  This system can be used to take images or video of the lunar surface with a frame rate up to 30 frames per second.

MoonKAM operations started on March 14, and now thousands of students from around the world have the unique opportunity to schedule and capture video clips and images of the lunar surface using wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras, using the imagery to study lunar features such as craters, highlands and maria while also learning about past and future landing sites.

“We have had a great response from schools worldwide; approximately 3,000 have signed up to participate so far,” said Ride.  “I expect MoonKAM will excite many students about careers in science and engineering.”

View sample lunar images at the MoonKAM website: https://moonkam.ucsd.edu/.

The GRAIL mission is managed for NASA by Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.   Both GRAIL spacecraft were launched by a single rocket on September 10 last year.  The start of their journey to the Moon was also captured by an Ecliptic RocketCam system on the launcher.

Both spacecraft entered their initial lunar orbits at the turn of the year, and their science orbits were established by March 1.  GRAIL’s primary science operations mission started March 6 and will continue through the end of May, continuing through December during the project’s extended science mission, recently approved by NASA.  Average orbit altitudes for the GRAIL spacecraft are currently around 55 km (34 miles).  During the extended mission average altitudes will be around 23 km (14 miles), dropping to as low as 7 km (4 miles) near the end of the year, culminating in targeted impacts onto the lunar surface.