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South Pole Aitken Basin Sample Return
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South Pole Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Sample Return
Total Cost: $700 million cap
NASA Research Opportunities

NASA New Frontiers Announcement of Opportunity, January 5, 2009

The surface of the South Pole-Aitken basin, located on the Moon's far side southern polar region, is likely to contain some fraction of the mineralogy of the Moon's lower crust. Therefore, a mission to return a sufficient sample of material from the South Pole-Aitken basin terrain would provide critical information to understand the history of Earth's Moon.

Mission Goals

  • Elucidate the nature of the Moon's lower crust and mantle by direct measurements of its composition and of sample ages.
  • Determine the chronology of basin-forming impacts and constrain the period of late, heavy bombardment in the inner solar system, and thus, address fundamental questions of inner solar system impact processes and chronology.
  • Characterize a large lunar impact basin through "ground truth" validation of global, regional and local remotely sensed data of the sampled site.
  • Elucidate the sources of thorium and other heat-producing elements in order to understand lunar differentiation and thermal evolution.
  • Determine ages and compositions of far-side basalts to determine how mantle source regions on the far side of the Moon differ from regions sampled by Apollo and Luna basalts.

The National Research Council (NRC) recommended eight high-priority, medium-class investigations as candidate missions to be implemented through NASA's "New Frontiers" program for launch in 2018. The recommended investigations were: South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return, Venus In Situ Explorer, Comet Surface Sample Return, Network Science, Trojan/Centaur Reconnaissance Mission, Asteroid Rover/Sample Return Mission, Io Observer, and Ganymede Observer. NASA will choose one of these mission concepts in the New Frontiers class to be developed and launched.

Key Dates
This is a mission concept. No launch date has been determined yet.
Fast Facts
LABSR Facts In 1970, the Soviet Union's Luna 16 (right) was the first robotic spacecraft to send samples back from the Moon.

Although it was a robotic first, America's Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 astronauts collected and returned lunar samples before it arrived.

The Moon's south pole is also intriguing because ot the possibility it harbors water-ice in permanently shadowed craters.
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Last Updated: 24 Jan 2011