September 7, 2013
Successful Launch For NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere And Dust Environment Explorer Mission
[ Watch the Video: LADEE Launches! ]
Lee Rannals & Staff for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineNASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission launched on Friday night, and is now making its way towards the Moon.
The latest lunar mission from NASA seeks to gather more information about the moon's atmosphere, as well as understand environment influences on lunar dust. LADEE took off towards the moon from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia aboard a Minotaur V rocket at 11:27 eastern time.
The launch was not completely without incident, as the LADEE missions operations team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California reported that, during technical checkouts, the spacecraft ordered itself to shut down the reaction wheels used to position and stabilize the vehicle.
Ames center director S. Pete Worden said that there was no indication that there was anything wrong with the wheels, or with any other part of the spacecraft. “This is not an unusual event in spacecraft,” he explained, adding that the LADEE team is currently reviewing the situation, and that the anomaly could add a few extra days to the agency’s normal spacecraft checkout procedures.
NASA said the 844-pound spacecraft will be traveling for the next 30 days, after which it will begin a 30-day checkout before starting the mission. LADEE will soon be entering a series of phasing orbits, which will allow for the spacecraft to arrive at the moon at the proper time and phase.
LADEE will have 100 days of science operations, orbiting the moon about every 24 hours at a 156-mile altitude. Once its mission is complete, NASA plans to crash land the spacecraft into the lunar surface.
LADEE will be helping scientists understand some key characteristics that will address long-standing questions about the moon. This data will not only open up our eyes a little more about our celestial neighbor, but will impart knowledge about other planetary bodies as well.
This lunar mission is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA's Ames Research Center. NASA said it demonstrates how it can build a first class spacecraft at reduced cost.
“LADEE’s common bus is an innovative concept that brings NASA a step closer to multi-use designs and assembly line production, while moving away from custom design,” Worden said. "This mission will put the common bus design to the test. This same common bus can be used on future missions to explore other destinations, including voyages to orbit and land on the moon, low-Earth orbit, and near-Earth objects."
If all continues to go well, then this mission will amp up NASA's confidence in finding affordable ways to launch often.
“We can use off-the-shelf components because customized components are expensive to continually develop and improve. If these systems work successfully, NASA will be looking for other commercial technologies to use for space exploration," said David Korsmeyer, Director of Engineering at NASA Ames.
LADEE will be helping to explain a mystery that emerged during the Apollo missions back in the 1960s and 1970s. During these missions, astronauts reported seeing pale luminous streamers over the horizon they called "twilight rays." LADEE will begin seeking out these twilight rays, as well as other mysteries of the moon in the next 60 days.