June 17, 2009

Lunar missions moved to launch pad

The U.S. space agency has moved its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite to their launch pad.

The two satellites rolled aboard an Atlas V rocket to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad Wednesday in preparation for a Thursday launch.

The spacecraft are scheduled to lift off together, with three launch windows available: at 5:12 p.m., 5:22 p.m. and 5:32 p.m. EDT. If the launch slips to Friday the launch opportunities would be at 6:41 p.m., 6:51 p.m. and 7:01 p.m. EDT, NASA said.

The orbiter will conduct a one-year exploration mission at a polar orbit of about 31 miles, the closest any spacecraft has orbited the moon. Its primary objective is to gather information in preparation for explorations of the moon.

The sensing satellite will search for water ice on the moon by sending the spent upper-stage Centaur rocket to impact part of a polar crater. Then the satellite will fly into the dust plume created by the impact and measure its properties before also colliding with the lunar surface.

NASA TV launch coverage begins at 2 p.m. Thursday. NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information is available at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.