NASA selects two UCSC scientists to join Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter mission

Ian Garrick-Bethell and Mikhail Kreslavsky are among the nine participating scientists who will join the KPLO science team

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Ian Garrick-Bethell
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Mikhail Kreslavsky

NASA has selected nine scientists to join the upcoming Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) mission, including two planetary scientists at UC Santa Cruz. Professor Ian Garrick-Bethell and associate researcher Mikhail Kreslavsky, both in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UCSC, are among the participating scientists who will join the KPLO science team.

Set to launch in August 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 and orbit the moon for about a year, KPLO is the first space exploration mission of the Republic of Korea (ROK) that will travel beyond Earth orbit.

“The KPLO Participating Scientist Program is an example of how international collaborations can leverage the talents of two space agencies to achieve greater science and exploration success than individual missions,” said KPLO Project Manager Sang-Ryool Lee. “It’s fantastic that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute lunar mission has NASA as a partner in space exploration—we’re excited to see the new knowledge and opportunities that will arise from the KPLO mission as well as from future joint KARI–NASA activities.”

Each of the nine participating scientists will join the KPLO science team for at least one of the five KPLO instruments beginning later this year and will be funded for three years. Kreslavsky will take part in the study of lunar polarimetric anomalies using PolCam, a wide-angle polarimetric camera. Garrick-Bethell will be studying the lithospheric magnetic field of the moon using the KPLO magnetometer, KMAG.

“It is still a mystery how a body as small as the Moon could have once supported a magnetic dynamo in its tiny liquid iron core. The magnetometer on KPLO will provide important new measurements to address this mystery,” Garrick-Bethell said.

The three overarching goals of the KPLO mission are realizing the first space exploration mission by ROK, developing and verifying space technologies suitable for deep-space exploration on future missions, and investigating the physical characteristics of the lunar surface to aid future robotic landing missions to the moon.

To meet these objectives, the spacecraft will carry a payload of five scientific instruments to include three cameras, a magnetometer, and a gamma-ray spectrometer. NASA is contributing one of the cameras, known as ShadowCam, which will be used to obtain optical images at high resolution of the permanently shadowed regions at the lunar poles of the moon that are thought to contain ice.

“It is important that the participating scientists are fully embedded in the existing KARI and NASA teams well before the mission is due to launch,” said Shoshana Weider from NASA’s Planetary Science Division, who leads the KPLO Participating Scientist Program. “This means they will have plenty of time to collaborate with their KARI colleagues during the pre-launch mission-planning phase, which will help ensure that the science return of their projects, and the mission as a whole, is maximized.”

The moon will be the focus of many robotic and human exploration missions in the coming years, including those under NASA’s Artemis program. Beginning later this year, NASA will send science instruments and technology experiments on two separate robotic landers to the lunar surface. The KPLO lunar mission will provide scientific data to better understand the lunar poles and assist planning for some Artemis activities.