Update 9/6/13 – LADEE Moon launch successful. See Video and read about it.
NASA will launch a car sized satellite to the Moon from the Wallops Island facility at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, 8/6/13. This will be the first launch to the Moon from the facility.The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky. A thorough understanding of these characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.
“The moon’s tenuous atmosphere may be more common in the solar system than we thought,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “Further understanding of the moon’s atmosphere may also help us better understand our diverse solar system and its evolution.”
This is a mission of several firsts:
- First flight of the Minotaur V rocket,
- Testing of a high-data-rate laser communication system
- First launch beyond Earth orbit from the agency’s Virginia Space Coast launch facility.
Particularly exciting is the fact that people who live in the northeast U.S. will be able to see a launch to the Moon. Millions will be able to see the 5 stage rocket as it lifts off and heads for the moon. The rocket will be view-able from as far away as Ohio and Maine.
This is the inaugural launch of the 5 stage Minotaur V rocket. LADEE will be the 45th satellite launched by a Minotaur rocket. The Minotaur V is based on the Minotaur IV vehicle and adds a solid motor fifth stage to propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit.The rocket is based on the military peacekeeper rocket.The standard space launch configuration of Minotaur V is made up of three decommissioned Peacekeeper solid fuel rocket motors that Orbital has upgraded and integrated with modern avionics and other subsystems. Over 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board thrusters to alter its trajectory to allow it to enter orbit around the Moon.
LADEE also is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
LADEE was built using an Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture, a general purpose spacecraft design that allows NASA to develop, assemble and test multiple modules at the same time. The LADEE bus structure is made of a lightweight carbon composite with a mass of 547.2 pounds — 844.4 pounds when fully fueled.
“This mission will put the common bus design to the test,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden. “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.”
After commissioning, LADEE will begin a 100-day science phase to collect data using three instruments to determine the composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and remotely sense lofted dust, measure variations in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and collect and analyze samples of any lunar dust particles in the atmosphere. Using this set of instruments, scientists hope to address a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon detected during several Apollo missions?