Washington University, China’s ShanDong University will collaborate on Moon data

Moon missions galore over next two years

Amid a bevy of international space exploration missions to the Moon, the Washington University Department of Earth and Planetary Science in Arts & Sciences and ShanDong University at WeiHai (SDU at WH) in Mainland China have agreed to cooperate on scientific research and joint training of students in the two institutions.

The agreement comes less than a year away from the planned launch of Chang’E-1, the Chinese lunar probe project, in April, 2007. The goals of China’s Chang’E-1 project are first to place a satellite into orbit around the Moon in 2007; then to land an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2010; and to collect samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by 2020. The spacecraft carries five instruments to image and measure different features of the Moon.

Within two years, three additional missions from the United States, India and Japan will generate a furious flurry of data that will keep space scientists enthralled for the better part of the next decade. The Japanese Selene mission is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2007, the Indian Chandrayan-1 in late 2007 or early 2008, and the United States’ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for October 2008.

Raymond E. Arvidson, Ph.D., James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, Bradley Jolliff, Ph.D., research associate professor in earth and planetary sciences, and Alian Wang, Ph.D., senior research scientist in earth and planetary sciences, traveled to WeiHai in July of this year to meet the president of ShanDong University and members of the science faculty and to sign the formal agreement at ShanDong WeiHai on July 22.

“ShanDong University at WeiHai has an emerging Department of Space Science and Physics, and they’re very interested in building a solid space sciences program,” said Arvidson. “They will have access to the Chang’E-1 data starting this spring. Our intent is to encourage data exchange both ways and help them set up a data system very similar to the NASA Planetary Data System, assist with archiving and train them also on basic science and physics of the Moon. This is a tremendous opportunity and a win-win situation. They want to put together a strong group in space sciences and they’re starting from scratch. They’re looking to us for help to start out, and we’re getting in at the ground level and now will have access to people who will be dealing with the Chinese lunar data.”

Arvidson oversees the Geosciences Node of NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS) archive, which distributes digital data of the surface and interiors of the planets and their satellites. Arvidson and the PDS work directly with NASA missions to help generate well-documented permanent data archives. NASA-sponsored researchers are able to obtain the data along with information about how to use them. In training the SDU personnel to archive following the PDS format and protocols, they are learning the world standard and ensuring that the data returned from the Chang’E-1 mission will be internationally recognized and accessible.

SDU already has selected students and personnel to come to WUSTL and begin work. These comprise two graduate students who will learn from WUSTL scientists about planetary science and planetary spectroscopy, and an instructor and computer scientist who will be here for several months to learn archiving skills and the PDS system.

A program of periodic staff exchange is in the works between the two institutions.

“Alian, Brad and I are working together to organize a planetary data analysis workshop at WeiHai next year,’ Arvidson said. “What we would like is to help the SDU personnel with tools and methods to handle their upcoming lunar orbital data sets and in return we hope to help bring top-notch students from SDU to Washington University and to develop collaborations with SDU researchers relating to the Chang’E-1 lunar data. Beyond that, we look to form collaborations that might involve access to geological and space science-related facilities and geological sites in China.”

Building relationships

According to Arvidson, the establishment of a good research relationship with SDU at WH is pivotal in building even more relationships in China because of SDU at WH’s links to such places as the Chinese National Astronomical Observatory, which will run the operating system for the lunar orbiter and the ministry of Land and Resources and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

“By being connected to ShanDong, we’re also connected to these other institutions, which should enable further cooperation and collaboration,” Arvidson said.

The collaboration agreement between the two institutions is a consequence of a frame agreement that SDU President Zhan Tao and WUSTL chancellor Mark S. Wrighton signed on Oct. 14, 2001. The sister university relationship was established then. A collaboration in social studies has been going on, and Chancellor Wrighton has visited SDU.

In May 2005, the SDU president visited Washington University again. A group of SDU alumni in the St. Louis area wanted to meet the president, and asked Alian Wang, an SDU alumna, to help find a meeting room at the University. Wang booked room 213 in the new Earth and Planetary Science Building for this purpose.

When the president and his delegation came, he saw the Mars rover, and then visited the Mars rover operating room and Wang’s laboratories. He also met Jolliff in the hallway, but Arvidson was traveling at that time.

Wang was then invited to visit SDU in December 2005, where she gave several talks to SDU teachers and students about the Mars Exploration rovers. During this trip, Wang visited the Department of Space Sciences and Applied Physics (SSAP) on the WeiHai campus. Because China was speeding up the lunar exploration project and SDU hoped to join it, Wang suggested that the SSAP department should develop a research direction for data analysis from planetary missions. The SDU president and Dr. Liang (chairman of the SSAP department) liked the idea so much that in February, 2006, they invited Arvidson, Wang and Jolliff to visit the WeiHai campus during their July trip to China to attend the 2006 COSPAR (Committee on Space Research) meeting.

Since February 2006, Arvidson and Liang have been communicating on the details of collaborations via e-mail and also worked on the details of the agreement, which is supported by Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences, and Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

“At SDU, Dr. Liang has been getting continuous support from president Dr. Zhan,” said Wang. “Four faculty positions in the area of space science were opened at SSAP, and a handsome budget for purchasing the hardware for planetary data analysis laboratory has been provided. Students in the SSAP department are all very excited about getting the first set of lunar data from the Chang ‘E-1 mission. We are excited to provide help in training the new generation of planetary scientists in China through the collaboration.”

Jolliff is a “science team member” for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which has two components: One is the narrow-angle camera pair, which will produce very high resolution images (0.5 m/pixel) of special targets such as potential landing sites, and the wide-angle camera, which will produce multispectral images (ultraviolet to visible) at lower resolution (200 m/pixel) used to assess resources.

“My responsibilities include targeting for the narrow-angle cameras and calibration, science results, and applications for the wide-angle camera,” Joliff said. “We will use the lunar orbiting laser altimeter (LOLA) results to project our camera images onto the 3-dimensional surface of the Moon to make the most accurate renderings of the lunar surface, on a global scale, to date.”