Remote Imaging Platform for Targets of Interest & Lunar Archeology
     By Fran Ridge, Coordinator, The Lunascan Project

The Earth has weather satellites that give us up-to-the-minute images of the weather on The Weather Channel. SOHO (Solar & Heliospheric Observatory) is keeping us abreast of the latest activity on our nearest star, the Sun.  The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is a NOAA Earth observation and space weather satellite launched by SpaceX on February 11th. It is intended to be positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point, 1,500,000 km (930,000 mi) from Earth, to monitor variable solar wind condition, provide early warning of approaching coronal mass ejections and observe phenomena on Earth including changes in ozone, aerosols, dust and volcanic ash, cloud height, vegetation cover and climate. At this location it will have a continuous view of the Sun and the sunlit side of the Earth. With the world's plan to return to the Moon it is time for a dedicated, 24/7, live-imaging lunar satellite for our nearest neighbor. This proposal describes the benefits of such a project for science, but it goes farther than just benefits. Our very survival could depend on it.

Simulated LPS view from RIPTILA

13 May 2015, updated 4 Dec 2016
The plan:
You go to your computer and click on "RIPTILA". The site takes you to a screen with live images from the Moon similar to the above, being imaged at 30 frames a second. Viewed full screen on your 52' LCD monitor, the bright, contrasted, full image of the Moon floating in the blackness of space in a close-by stationary L-1 orbit is breath-taking. This view is not magnified. It is a filtered, camera eye view streaming live from RIPTILA's imaging platform. On the bottom of the screen will be fast-running time stamp in Coordinated Universal Time. Anyone can go to this site and at almost any time (*) of the month or day and view this live image just like they do with a U.S. weather satellite, but this time it is our nearest neighbor, the Moon. And when RIPTILA missions are going on, the world can be watching, just as they can with the NASA Channel.

To get a closer look, using your mouse and a special program, you place a small rectangle over a portion of the Moon. With a right-click you are now looking at that small section, full screen and high definition, a SIMRANGE of 300 miles and a field of view of 200 miles. This is an unobstructed, clear and sharp view of the current lunar surface. Not the latest image, but LIVE images! On command you can zoom in even closer.

52-mile wide Copernicus in a 200 mile FOV

Does this sound far-fetched?  Or a waste of taxpayer's money? At one time weather satellites running 24/7 over the U.S. were just a great idea. We already have the technology.  If  SOHO can do this with the Sun 93,000,000 miles a way, why can't it be done with the Moon? The DSCOVR satellite is located near the L1 point between the Earth and the Sun. Its position is maintained by firing of rocket motors. (See L1 and "halo" orbit below ). There is a very strong possibility that a project like this could get off the ground with NASA or SPACE-X or some other privately-funded mission. But what would RIPTILA do and why the need to do it?


Probably one of the most important aspects of RIPTILA would be the 24/7 scan of the lunar globe for meteorite impact flashes. What is happening on the Moon today is also happening on the Earth, today. Impacts are still occurring and a more comprehensive study of them might help us to understand the rate and periodicity. This could help predict and deter a potential global disaster from the threat from rogue asteroids. In the image at the top of this proposal is a view of the Moon's western hemisphere, perfect for those looking for anomalies and routine targets on the dayside, and great for meteorite impact hunters on the darkside. Even more interesting would be the New Moon's totally black surface with the perfect backdrop for impact flashes. (See below). The other times when watching the Moon would be valuable would be during "meteor showers" which occur about a dozen times a year. Not only would this be live, but a photo-cell type system could even do the tedious work of counting the impacts. State-of-the-art security surveillance systems could store high-quality images for periods as short as a single day. During the last decade many astronomers have been watching the dark side (which also changes every day) for meteorite impacts, and there have been several documented cases. RIPTILA opens up a wonderful opportunity for scientists and researchers to study the Moon live and 24/7. This could be done in MUCH higher resolution than with Earth Based Telescopic Images and scanrate on a daily basis, and recordings reused many times.

New Moon

Having the full-sized image of the Moon in high-def on a 52" television screen would be a perfect way to observe and study (and record) a lunar eclipse. Not only scientists and researchers could do this, anybody could take part, including the news medias of the world. One problem that will have to be solved is that solar eclipses would be destructive to the sensors/chips used to image the Moon and some type of automatic iris would have to be incorporated in the system. (*)  Not only that but once each month the Moon would be aligned with the Sun and there would be a safety shutdown or filter switched on until the Sun was safely out of the way. 

"LTPs") have been observed since 1783, and the reported activity in some cases may be an indicater that the Moon is not as dead as we had once thought.  This exciting and promising new idea may change the way we watch the the Moon and there would no longer be any weather problems as we encounter with earth-based telescopes. Teams can be anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. And requests for viewing "Targets of Interest" at specific times would keep scientists and researchers busy doing very important and exciting work.

Using the mouse, the team slides the camera in the steerable mode to the upper right of the lunar disc and lets the program pan/scan the Moon at the rate of their choice. All the while the live images are being recorded. If the team wants to take a closer look at a target, there is no earth-rotation to deal with here, the system is just in "pan" mode. With another click on the mouse the team can now switch to track mode and hit "zoom". Now at higher power the target is observed extremely clear at a resolution not possible with EBTI or "Earth-Based Telescopic Imaging".

Authorized and scheduled teams can observe Targets of Interest,  using this steerable high-definition telescopic system "hovering" over the lunar nearside. While they work the mission, people all over the world can watch "the Moon Channel" as live breath-taking images come in. Viewers seeing "flashes" or possible "anomalies" can phone in reports as they occur and be credited for their finds. There is a long list of LTPs with dates and times so that colongitude can predict an occurrence if lighting conditions had anything to do with it. When there is no specific mission, the spacecraft's surveillance would continue its routine "meteor watch" 24/7.

Originally it was thought that teams wanting to do a "meteor watch" during an intense meteor shower known to be going on on the Earth would have to file a "Mission Request" which would allow them priority over the RIPTILA view. But this wouldn't require any more than the image of the full lunar disc to observe the flashes of an impact.  A message on the bottom of the screen ("ticker" or "crawler") would inform everyone that some type of mission is going on.

The same with an authorized team for research on a past LTP report. LTP dates and times would have the  colongitude data and a computer program would provide the future dates for the exact same seeing conditions to try to duplicate the event if specific lighting caused the anomaly or if lighting conditions betrayed the presence of any unusual feature or outgassing.

Most of the time between these more important activities would be filled in with routine scanning which would still benefit the "meteor watch" aspect. We always see the eastern hemisphere in normal hours and most of the previous 99 missions here at the Lunascan Project involved that area. But the western part of the Moon is for the early bird. It's one of the most interesting sights to see if you like the north-western part of Mare Imbrium with the beautiful Sinus Iridium, and the Jura mountain range which forms its edge. Sinus Iridium is crossed by mare ridges. Luna 17, which landed to the south of Cape Heraclides, transported an automatic mobile laboratory, Lunokhod 1, to the Moon. The interesting target craters Kepler and Aristarchus are always a favorite. But having a mission in the wee hours with good seeing conditions is a long shot in may places of the world. RIPTILA would solve that problem. Teams wouldn't have to have expensive telecopes to set up and maintain. All they would need would be the will to work the scans, a computer, and a recorder.

Lagrange Points

A word about Lagrange points and halo orbits. A halo orbit is a periodic, three-dimensional orbit near the L1,  L2 or L3 Lagrange points in the three-body problem of orbital mechanics. Although a spacecraft in a halo orbit moves in a circular path around the LP, it does not technically orbit the actual Lagrange point, because the LP is just an equilibrium point with no gravitational pull, but travels in a closed, repeating path near the Lagrange point. Halo orbits are the result of a complicated interaction between the gravitational pull of the two planetary bodies and the coriolis and centrifugal accelerations on a spacecraft. Halo orbits exist in many three-body systems, such as the Sun/Earth system and the Earth/Moon system. Continuous "families" of both Northern and Southern halo orbits exist at each Lagrange point. Because halo orbits tend to be unstable, stationkeeping is required to keep a satellite on the orbit. The distance from the Moon is around 384,400 km (240,000 miles) and the LP would be at about 62,000 km (about 39,000 miles) and require more complicated optics on REPTILA. But optics, of Hubble quality, but higher power in space would be fantastic as compared to Earth-bound systems with global atmospheric problems.

If successful, using a relay satellite orbiting the Moon to send the images, another version of our project could be used for the Lunar Far Side in a much more stable L2 Lagrange  Point.

RIPTILA is a suggested name only. And how to create an orbiting lunar satellite that would utilize an LP is a problem worth solving. Once we establish enough interest we can work on the issues and those problems. I don't believe the funding would be that difficult. I think the benefits would be scientifically valuable, and that the use of the system would be the beginning of a new era in space as we continue to explore the Moon and prepare for the next generation of more intense explorations and adventures, both private and commercial.

Already on the drawing board are new ways to use the newest technologies. One idea is to use one camera to do the entire operation, the original image being as hi-res as can be obtained. Then, on the ground, using computer programs, zooming in to produce what we use to call MPS and HPS scans. Medium Power Scanning produced images similar to a good telescope where the FOV was over 400 miles and up to 1,000-2000 miles. HPS (High-Powered Scanning) was 400X (or more) with an FOV under 400 miles, such as the pumped up image of Copernicus above with an FOV of 200 miles.

Using a computer program or a RIPTILA "x-box", anyone could do their own experiments without affecting the authorized missions. Rather than just watching scientist and researchers do their work, amateurs would be able to use the system without having to buy a telescope. Telescope suppliers could sell the "R-box" just as they sell telescopes for people to watch the Moon. RIPTILA will never replace the telescope for amateur astronomers who have a wide range of interests in space, but for those interested in the Moon it will open a whole new world in space adventure as we go back to our neighbor a quarter of a million miles away.


Francis L. Ridge
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The Lunascan Project
618 Davis Drive
Mt. Vernon, IN  47620
Phone:     (812) 838-3120

*  At times when the Sun would be in the background, and this would be  once a month and for a short period, there would have to be a way of turning on a filter or be able to shut down the camera to protect the optics and scanning chip.