With the success of NASA’s Artemis I launch, the previously unexplored shadowy regions near the lunar South Pole where Artemis astronauts will land in 2025, are more within our reach than ever before.
One instrument that will support these future lunar exploration efforts is a hypersensitive optical camera called ShadowCam. ShadowCam is one of six instruments on board the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)’s Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, known as Danuri, which launched in August 2022 and entered lunar orbit last December.
Previous cameras in lunar orbit were designed to acquire images of sunlit surfaces. Developed by Malin Space Science Systems and Arizona State University, ShadowCam’s primary function is to collect images within permanently shadowed regions near the lunar poles. These areas never receive direct sunlight and are thought to contain water ice – a significant resource for exploration that can be used as fuel or oxygen and for other habitation applications.
Building on cameras developed for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, ShadowCam is 200 times more light-sensitive and is therefore able to capture detailed images within permanently shadowed regions – even in the absence of direct light – by using the light that is reflected off nearby geologic features such as mountains or the walls of craters.
In addition to mapping the light reflected by permanently shadowed regions to search for evidence of ice deposits, ShadowCam will also observe seasonal changes and measure the terrain inside the craters, all in service of science and future lunar exploration efforts. The high-resolution images could help scientists learn more about how the Moon has evolved, how water is trapped and preserved in PSRs, and could help inform site selection and exploration planning for Artemis missions.
Since Danuri entered lunar orbit, ShadowCam has been in an operational checkout period, during which it has been collecting dozens of images of the lunar polar regions, including an image of Shackleton Crater, to calibrate and test its functionality. Following this checkout period, which will conclude later this month, ShadowCam will start its campaign to capture images of shadowed terrain as Danuri routinely passes over them during the planned mission of 11 months.
Read more about ShadowCam and Danuri.