NASA Orbiter To Begin Collecting Atmospheric Data After Lunar Arrival
November 22, 2013

NASA Orbiter To Begin Collecting Atmospheric Data After Lunar Arrival

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) successfully entered orbit around the moon’s equator earlier this week and is now set to begin collecting atmospheric data, the US space agency has announced.

The spacecraft, which enjoyed a successful launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia over two months ago, entered its planned orbit around the moon’s equator on Wednesday. It now orbits the moon roughly every two hours at an altitude of between eight and 37 miles above the lunar surface.

According to NASA, the probe’s position will allow the probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night, giving scientists an in-depth look at the changes and processes that occur within the moon’s atmosphere. LADEE will spend the next 100 days or so gathering detailed data on the structure and composition of the thin layer of gases above the moon, while also attempting to determine whether or not dust is finding its way into the sky.

“A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets,”stated Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The probe will allow Noble and her colleagues to monitor the conditions in the atmosphere during both lunar sunrise and sunset, where past manned and robotic missions were able to detect the mysterious glow of rays and streamers that reached into the moon’s atmosphere.

LADEE flight controllers confirmed on November 20 that the probe completed a critical burn of its orbit control system, which helped lower the probe into its optimal position and allowed it to enter the scientific data collection phase of its mission. Its altitude will be constantly monitored and adjusted as needed, NASA said.

“Due to the lumpiness of the moon's gravitational field, LADEE's orbit requires significant maintenance activity with maneuvers taking place as often as every three to five days, or as infrequently as once every two weeks,” said Butler Hine, project manager for the mission at the space agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

“LADEE will perform regular orbital maintenance maneuvers to keep the spacecraft’s altitude within a safe range above the surface that maximizes the science return,” he added. The mission is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington and managed by Hine’s team at the Ames facility.

Along with its science instruments, LADEE’s payload included the first high-data-rate laser communication system, known as the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration. The LLCD device was developed in order to enable satellite communications at speeds rivaling those of high-speed fiber optic networks here on Earth. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration was successfully tested earlier in the mission.

[ Watch the video: LLCD: Proving Laser Communication Is Possible ]