Highlights of planetary laser ranging and altimetry: Mars (Mars Global Surveyor), Moon (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), Mercury (MESSENGER) and beyond.

Aula B. Touschek (Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Via Enrico Fermi 40, Frascati)

Aula B. Touschek

Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Via Enrico Fermi 40, Frascati

Via Enrico Fermi 40 00044 Frascati

Planetary laser altimetry began on the early Apollo flights in the late sixties and early seventies but did not become significant scientific tool for planetary exploration until the nineteen nineties with launch of the Clementine mission to the Moon in 1994 and the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft to Mars in 1996. For Mars, the laser altimeter (MOLA) made the first precise mapping of the planet at geodetic quality that could be used for the planning of future landing mission, interpreting the morphology of the landforms, and for the constraining of images. MOLA obtained reflections from CO2 ice clouds, from the CO2 surface frost in the polar regions, and provided the first estimate of the volume of material deposited on the surface during the season atmospheric cycle. In 2004 the MESSENGER mission to Mercury was launched and carried the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) as part of its payload. MESSENGER did 3 flybys of Mercury, with the instruments in operation in 2008 and 2009, and entered Mercury orbit in March 2011. MLA has been operating for over 1 year in Mercury orbit and provided detailed topographic mapping of the northern hemisphere showing that the north polar region is a 2 km depression, that the equatorial region is elongated at the km level, and has a dynamic range of topography of over 9 km in the northern hemisphere. In 2009 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission carried the LOLA laser altimeter to the Moon. LOLA is a 5 beam, 10 cm accuracy laser system that was designed to assist in landing site selection and able to provide topography, surface slope on a surface scale of 25 m, and roughness and reflectance on a scale of 5 m. It has been operating on orbit continuously for over 2.75 years. The presentation will discuss the results from these missions and the new understanding we have obtained of Mars, the Moon and Mercury

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