NASA’s Lunar Retroreflector Network could make landing on the moon much easier | Space

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In the future, rocketing in making precision landings on the moon’s craggy, rocky and crater-pocked face won’t be as hard.

At least that’s the goal of NASA’s Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA) program, an initiative that is interfacing with U.S. and foreign lunar lander initiatives. LRA consists of a dome-shaped device, topped by small glass prism retroreflectors. That contrivance is then mounted to a moon lander and delivered to the lunar surface.

The LRA can bounce laser light from other orbiting and incoming spacecraft, functioning as a permanent location marker on the moon for decades to come.

But dotting the lunar landscape with these devices has been a tough row to hoe.

Related: The age of the private moon mission has begun

High-stakes, hit-or-miss missions

The privately-built Astrobotic lander, dubbed Peregrine, is one of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) partnerships, enabling commercial companies to fly space agency scientific instruments to the moon.

Onboard the now trouble-plagued Astrobotic lunar lander was a NASA LRA. That lander suffered problems shortly after launch, curtailing any hope of getting its legs firmly down on the moon.

But there’s hope for the upcoming attempted landing of Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), another on course for a Jan. 20 touchdown. It too carries a NASA-supplied LRA.

An LRA consists of eight tiny retroreflectors mounted on a small, high hemispherical platform.  (Image credit: NASA TV)

LRAs are to be carried by several up-and-coming CLPS-supported moon missions, such as the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander. Then there is the Astrobotic Griffin lander, which also will be carrying an LRA – a very high-stakes undertaking as it carries NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER.

But don’t forget the already-on-location LRA that was toted to the moon by India’s successful Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander in August of last year.

Multiple landmarks

LRA principal investigator Xiaoli…

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