Dark Side Of The Moon Is Final Resting Place For NASA's LADEE Probe
April 18, 2014

Dark Side Of The Moon Is Final Resting Place For NASA’s LADEE Probe

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

After dutifully carrying out its mission, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe crashed into the surface of the Moon on Thursday at an extremely high rate of speed – a planned impact designed to gather information on high speed lunar impacts.

NASA said vending machine-sized LADEE slammed into the back of the Moon at a speed of around 3,600 miles per hour – around triple the speed of a bullet shot out of a high-powered rifle.

"It's bound to make a dent," project scientist Rick Elphic told U-T San Diego on Thursday.

Before slamming into the lunar surface, project scientists slotted the probe into an extremely low orbit –less than 1 mile above the Moon. At this altitude, much lower than the altitudes flow by commercial jets, LADEE was able to gather unprecedented data on the lunar atmosphere, its primary mission.

The final resting place of the craft, or whatever remains, is on the ‘back’ of the Moon – the side constantly facing away from Earth since the Moon orbits our planet at the same speed it rotates. NASA scientists said, considering LADEE’s speed at the time of impact – it’s possible most of the probe has been obliterated or vaporized.

"There’s nothing gentle about impact at these speeds – it’s just a question of whether LADEE made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris across a flat area,” Elphic said. “It will be interesting to see what kind of feature LADEE has created."

Next, the project scientists are expected to figure out the precise time and place of LADEE's impact and collaborate with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team in an attempt to image the impact site.

"It's bittersweet knowing we have received the final transmission from the LADEE spacecraft after spending years building it in-house at Ames, and then being in constant contact as it circled the moon for the last several months," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at the agency's Ames Research Center.

NASA had invited the public to participate in the final stage of LADEE’s mission through its “Take the Plunge” contest. Through a website, participants were asked to estimate the date and time of the spacecraft’s impact. NASA said it will give winners a digital certificate of congratulations.

Launched in September 2013, LADEE started orbiting the moon on Oct. 6 and collecting information Nov. 10. The probe came into its primary science orbit above moon's equator on Nov. 20, and in March 2014, NASA extended LADEE's mission after having an extremely successful 100-day primary mission.

Besides being used to gather information about the lunar atmosphere, LADEE also played a role in NASA’s groundbreaking communication system that uses laser beams rather than radio transmissions to send data. In an historic event, NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) used a pulsed laser to send information from the moon to the Earth at a rate of over 620 megabits-per-second (Mbps). Additionally, an error-free upload rate of 20 Mbps was sent from the main ground to the Laser Communications Space Terminal aboard LADEE.

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

"LADEE was a mission of firsts, achieving yet another first by successfully flying more than 100 orbits at extremely low altitudes," said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Although a risky decision, we're already seeing evidence that the risk was worth taking.”


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