June 23, 2009

NASA satellite enters moon orbit

The U.S. space agency says its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter entered a lunar orbit at 6:27 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

NASA engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center had to perform a mid-course correction to correctly position the LRO to reach its insertion point.

Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission, said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. The LRO mission cannot begin until the moon captures us. Once we enter the moon's orbit, we can begin to (build) the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources.

A series of four engine burns this week will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During that commissioning phase each of the LRO's seven instruments is checked and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit, NASA said.

The LRO will orbit the moon at about 31 miles for one year, compiling high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also surveying it at many spectral wavelengths. The space agency said the satellite is expected to return more data about the moon than any previous mission.