Next generation lunar laser ranging and its GNSS applications
Currie, D.G. ; Delle Monache, G.O. ; Cantone, C. ; ...Bianco, G. ; et al.
Apr - 2010
DOI: 10.1109/AERO.2010.5446911
ISBN : 9781424438884

Event Title : 2010 IEEE Aerospace Conference
Published in: 2010 IEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
Publisher: IEEE
type: Conference Proceedings

Over the past forty years, Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) to the Apollo Corner Cube Reflector (CCR) arrays has supplied almost all of the significant tests of General Relativity, and provided significant information on the composition and origin of the Moon. These arrays are the only experiment of the Apollo program still in operation. Initially the Apollo Lunar arrays contributed a negligible portion of the error budget used to achieve these results. However over the decades, the performance of the ground stations has been greatly upgraded so that the ranging accuracy has improved by more than two orders of magnitude. Now, after forty years, because of the lunar librations, the existing Apollo retroreflector arrays contribute a significant fraction of the limiting errors in the range measurements. University of Maryland (UMD) and INFN/LNF are now proposing a new approach to the Lunar Laser Ranging Array technology, the experiment MoonLIGHT. The new arrays will support ranging observations that are a factor 100 more accurate, reaching the micron level. The new fundamental physics and lunar physics that this new Lunar Laser Ranging Retroreflector Array for the 21st century (LLRRA-21) can provide, will be briefly described. The new lunar CCR housing has been built at the INFN/LNF. In the design of the new array there are three major challenges: 1) validate that the specifications of the CCR required for the new array, which are significantly beyond the properties of current CCRs, can indeed be achieved, 2) address the thermal and optical effects of the absorption of solar radiation within the CCR, reduce the transfer of heat from the hot housing to the CCR and 3) define a method of emplacing the CCR package on the lunar surface such that the relation between the optical center of the array and the center of mass of the Moon remains stable over the lunar day/night cycle. Its evolutionary design may be suitable for future GNSS constellations guaranteeing ranging accuracy improvement (the concept of a single reflector introduces no laser pulse spreading at all angles), weight and area saving (being its absolute optical cross section equal to a large number of the CCRs that will be used for the upcoming GNSS constellations).

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