Four decades after humankind's first giant leap, NASA is returning to the Moon in a big way with the Mini-RF project, which is flying two radar instruments to map the lunar poles, search for water ice, and to demonstrate new communications technologies.
An innovative synthetic aperture radar (SAR), the instrument will orbit the Moon on two platforms: the Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. What it finds will support humans' return to the Moon.
Mini-RF stands for Miniature Radio Frequency. Based on new technology, this powerful scientific instrument (also known as Mini-SAR) consists of an antenna and electronics boxes. The combined mass of the Mini-SAR components on Chandrayaan-1 is about 19 pounds (9 kilograms), while the Mini-RF package on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter weighs approximately 29 pounds (14 kilograms).
Mini-RF focuses on the lunar poles, mysterious and relatively unexplored regions that preserve materials from the early history and evolution of the solar system. These regions also have significant exploration potential, having been chosen as the location of the next human lunar mission. If Mini-RF locates ice deposits, these resources could be used by future lunar explorers.
Lunar-polar mosaics showing data collected by Mini-RF during its first imaging season. The mosaics cover within 10 degrees latitude of each pole.
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Artist's rendition of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter over the lunar surface, with the Mini-RF antenna attached to its Moon-facing panel.
Mini-RF hardware construction