Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Technicians test the two spacecraft in a thermal vacuum chamber. Credit: NASA/JPL, Caltech/LMSS

NASA is ready to launch a pair of twin spacecraft on a mission to map the moon’s gravity in greater detail than ever. Such insight will allow scientists to deduce the moon’s interior structure, composition, and its history. The $496 million Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission is scheduled to launch September 8; its launch window extends through October 19.

The GRAIL spacecrafts, GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, will reach their destined orbit, a short 55 kilometers above the lunar surface, by January 2012. They will chase each other around the moon measuring the distance to each other with great precision. The distance will range between 121 to 262 kilometers depending on the moon’s gravitational field. The technique–twin spacecraft flying in formation–utilizes radio links between the two spacecraft as well as radio links to a station back on Earth.

“What we’re trying to measure is the width of less than a human hair,” said John Henk, Grail program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, according to Space.com. Measuring these precise distance changes allows researchers to map the lunar gravity field more accurately, 100 to 1,000 times better than previously possible, according to GRAIL scientists.

While scientists expect that the mission will improve their knowledge of the moon, they believe it should also provide information on the formation and evolution of other bodies in the inner solar system, such as Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

See a photo gallery of GRAIL preparing for launch.

Artist rendering of the spacecrafts orbiting the lunar surface. Credit: NASA/JPL


0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »