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History was made on Friday, October 9, when NASA sent not one but two spacecraft hurtling into the surface of the moon, leaving a Thermoteknix miniature thermal imaging camera permanently embedded in its own lunar crater.
At 12.30 BST, a 2,200-kilogram Centaur rocket stage slammed into the moon in a flurry of lunar dust, followed shortly after by a second unmanned spacecraft containing an array of sensors including a Thermoteknix MIRICLE TB2-30 infrared camera to record the impact. The Thermoteknix camera detected a minute flash of heat as the Centaur hit the moon, confirming the moment of impact and recording the temperature rise as a new crater was formed.
Moments later the LCROSS instrument spacecraft impacted close by, creating its own smaller crater. Data from the dust cloud was beamed back live from the LCROSS spacecraft to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) for onward transmission back to Earth. Scientists at Mission Control NASA in Ames, Calif., were ecstatic with the unique data which will be invaluable in subsequent analysis to confirm or refute the presence of water in this section of the lunar landscape. An array of more than 15 observatories around the earth were involved in observing the event, as was the Hubble telescope which closely monitored the impact and its instruments recorded spectroscopic data.
The Thermoteknix MIRICLE camera, which took the first ever thermal images of the far side of the Moon just days before, performed flawlessly throughout the mission up to its impact with the moon.
Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator and project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said "The LCROSS science instruments worked exceedingly well and returned a wealth of data that will greatly improve our understanding of our closest celestial neighbor. The team is excited to dive into data."
It will be some days until NASA can confirm whether water is actually present following this historic achievement which saw the LCROSS satellite travel 5.6 million miles in 113 days before heading into the permanently shadowed 100 kilometers wide Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole.
Finding water on the moon is not only important for supporting prolonged manned visits to the moon but will also allow the production of rocket fuel for venturing further into space.
Dr. Richard Salisbury, managing director of Thermoteknix, said: "We are delighted to have successfully played such a critical part in NASA's epic mission to find water on the Moon, which is vital for the future of long-term space exploration and we are all very proud of this achievement."
MIRICLE TB2-30 is the same camera which has already been used on Formula 1 and IndyCar racecars and most recently in several highly successful ‘Aegis’ Ballistic Missile Defence tests. The MIRICLE radiometric aerospace qualified system is calibrated for temperature measurement in the harshest of environments under the most extreme vibration conditions.
Cambridge company Thermoteknix Systems Ltd. was founded in 1982 and has been at the forefront of thermal imaging technology for more than 25 years. Thermoteknix has twice been awarded the coveted Queen’s Award – most recently in 2008 for Innovation for its MIRICLE range of thermal imaging cameras.
Thermoteknix MIRICLE TB2-30 camera now in permanent residence in Cabeus lunar crater
The impact - detected by the Thermoteknix MIRICLE camera
First ever thermal images of the Far Side of the Moon taken by Thermoteknix MIRICLE TB2-30 camera
Thermal Image of Earth - taken with MIRICLE TB2-30 Camera