Development of A Lunar Geotechinical Geographic Information System

Researcher: Leon Croukamp
Divison of Transport, Geotech and Management
PHD Research: Development of A Lunar Geotechinical Geographic Information System

The aim of this research is to create a GIS based system that will map the geotechnical properties or the lunar surface. The motivation for this research came from the new interest shown in lunar exploration, habitation and In situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) by countries such as the USA, Europe, Russia, China and Japan. Several countries have or had satellites orbiting the moon in the very recent past.
The primary research question is whether it is possible to predict geotechnical properties based on remotely sensed data. The departure point of the proposed research is to follow the Earth analogy where areas of similar geology, topography and climate typically have the same geotechnical properties. On the basis of this, ‘type areas’ for a certain geotechnical property can be defined, investigated and then extrapolated to other areas.

The research utilises a similar approach by looking at data obtained from recent lunar missions in combination with existing geological maps prepared by the USGS. Data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and specifically the LOLA and LROC instruments is used in combination with spectral data and imagery from missions such as GRAIL, Chandrayaan-1 2 and 3 as well as LCROSS to determine boulder and crater size and density. Spectrum analysis is enabling the determination of rock type/regolith thickness as well as water ice areas, and reflectance intensity is being used as a means of determining surface roughness. Already, it is clear that that the striations, also known as the ray areas, appear to have more boulders (surface roughness) than other lunar surfaces. This will have an impact on robotic travel, especially unmanned rovers that may need to plot suitable paths across the lunar landscape. This data is supported by new, extremely high resolution, photos of the lunar surface.
Data regarding geotechnical properties of the lunar surface as collected by the Apollo era scientists and subsequent analysis of lunar soils is assisting with the interpretation of remotely sensed data. Known and potential mineral resources are located in a similar fashion.

The research will enable significant cost savings during exploration sorties, sample collection excursions and ultimately in the selection of suitable permanent and temporary lunar bases. One of the most prohibitive cost implications of planetary exploration and settlement is the cost of material transport. The research will ultimately help in identifying of suitable exploration areas and settlements and further cost savings will be realised through the calculation of least-cost-paths between points of interest.