LRO Mission

Moon Mappers has been very fortunate to partner up with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team to provide you with some of the most spectacular images of the Moon since the Apollo missions close-up views.

The Spacecraft

LRO art

From animation of LRO, NASA.

The LROC is one of several instruments aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft. The LRO was launched on June 18, 2009 and is currently in a polar orbit around the Moon, collecting data.

Other instruments on the spacecraft include:

  • A laser altimeter (LOLA) that measures surface roughness and slope angles to help identify good future landing sites,
  • A radar (Mini-RF) that will be used to search for water ice deposits under the surface and image permanently shadowed regions at the lunar poles,
  • A radiometer (DLRE) that measures temperatures on the Moon, looking for cold traps where ice deposits could be found, and identifies rough terrain or rocks that would provide a landing hazard for future missions,
  • A cosmic ray telescope (CRaTER) that will monitor the radiation environment around the Moon, to learn what protection humans and equipment would need,

as well as several others.

To learn more about the spacecraft and its instrument payload, please visit NASA’s LRO site.

The Cameras

The LROC actually consists of 3 separate cameras.


Wide Angle Camera

The Wide Angle Camera (WAC) is designed to provide images of the entire Moon at a resolution of 100 meters per pixel (a small city block would show up as roughly 1 pixel at this resolution). The main goal of this camera is to gather repeated images of the lunar poles over a full lunar year to find out which areas remain in constant shadow. Because of the curvature of the Moon, a person standing at the poles would always have the sun at the horizon. If they happen to be standing in a crater, it is possible that the sun would never shine into the bottom of that crater. These kinds of craters are interesting because they provide a place for water ice to be stable on the Moon, shielded from the sun, which would evaporate it into space.


Narrow Angle Camera

The other two cameras are Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs). Together, these cameras provide two side by side, 5 kilometer-wide swaths of images for selected regions of the Moon. Unfortunately, the entire Moon will not be imaged by these cameras, because their resolution is very high at 50 centimeters per pixel (you would show up as roughly one pixel at this resolution). To completely image the Moon at that resolution is currently not possible. Instead, the goal of these cameras is to look for good future landing sites, which are relatively flat and free of rocks and other landing hazards. For that reason, areas thought to be potentially good or scientifically interesting landing sites are targeted by these cameras, as well as other areas that are generally of scientific interest. The Apollo landing sites are also targeted by the NAC cameras, because they can provide a known comparison between what the surface looks like from orbit and what it looks like on the ground.

To learn more about LROC cameras and see images, please visit Arizona State University’s LROC site.

The Data

The current Moon Mapper tasks are using the NAC images to map small craters, which have never been cataloged before. These images provide exciting opportunities for you to identify features that have never been observed by anyone before.

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