February 18, 2009

NASA LCROSS satellite heads toward Florida

The U.S. space agency says its Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, known as LCROSS, is en route to Florida for a scheduled spring launch.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite -- being moved from the Northrop Grumman Corp. facility in Redondo Beach, Calif., to the Kennedy Space Center -- will search for water ice on the moon in a permanently shadowed crater near one of the lunar poles.

NASA said LCROSS is a low-cost, accelerated-development, companion mission to the space agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter -- the first missions in NASA's plan to return humans to the moon by 2020.

After launch, the LCROSS spacecraft and the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage rocket will fly by the moon and enter into an elongated orbit to position the satellite for impact, NASA said. On final approach, the spacecraft and Centaur will separate. The Centaur will strike the chosen lunar crater, creating a debris plume that will rise above the surface. Four minutes later, LCROSS will fly through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before striking the moon's surface and creating a second debris plume.

NASA said scientists will use data from the debris clouds to determine the presence or absence of lunar water ice.