The LADEE nighttime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Minotaur V rocket will reach during the Sep. 6, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast.
RELEASE 13-265 NASA Prepares for First Virginia Coast Launch to Moon
In an attempt to answer prevailing questions about our moon, NASA is making final preparations to launch a probe at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.
The small car-sized 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."
The mission has many firsts, including the first flight of the Minotaur V rocket, testing of a high-data-rate laser communication system, and the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the agency's Virginia Space Coast launch facility.
LADEE also is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The probe will launch on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
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."
Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames, said the innovative common bus concept brings NASA a step closer to multi-use designs and assembly line production and away from custom design. "The LADEE mission demonstrates how it is possible to build a first class spacecraft at a reduced cost while using a more efficient manufacturing and assembly process," Hine said.
Approximately one month after launch, LADEE will begin its 40-day commissioning phase, the first 30 days of which the spacecraft will be performing activities high above the moon's surface. These activities include testing a high-data-rate laser communication system that will enable higher rates of satellite communications similar in capability to high-speed fiber optic networks on Earth.
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?
After launch, Ames will serve as a base for mission operations and real-time control of the probe. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will catalogue and distribute data to a science team located across the country.
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission. Ames manages the overall mission. Goddard manages the science instruments and technology demonstration payload, the science operations center and provides overall mission support. Wallops is responsible for launch vehicle integration, launch services and operations. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.
For more information about the LADEE mission, visit:
LADEE Project Manager Update: LADEE Ready for Launch Aug. 31, 2013
Engineers from NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have successfully completed launch preparation activities for NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory, which has been encapsulated into the nose-cone of the Minotaur V rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. LADEE now is ready to launch when the window opens on Sept. 6, 2013.
After safely arriving at NASA Wallops in June, the LADEE observatory went through final preparations and close-outs, which included checking the spacecraft's alignment after its cross-country shipment, checking the propulsion system for leaks, inspecting and repairing solar panels, and final electrical tests. After all of the activities were completed, it was time to start some of the scarier more challenging portions of the launch preparations: spin testing and fueling.
To make sure that the spacecraft is perfectly balanced for flight, engineers mount it onto a spin table and rotate it at high speeds, approximately one revolution per second. The team measures any offsets during the spinning, and then adds small weights to the spacecraft to balance it. Once the spacecraft was balanced dry, we then loaded the propulsion tanks with fuel, oxidizer, and pressurant. The spin testing was performed again "wet," or with fuel, in order to see if the balance changed with the full fuel tanks. The final wet spin balance went very well.
The next step was to lift the LADEE spacecraft onto the fifth stage – or the top – of the rocket, and then spin that whole stack in order to balance it for when the fifth stage burns during the ascent. Before and after this spin balancing, various explosive charges were installed onto the spacecraft and fifth stage, which will be used during flight to enable the propulsion system and remove the cover of one of the science instruments. The combination of propellents, explosives, and spinning made all of this activity pretty challenging.
After all of that was accomplished, engineers mounted the LADEE observatory onto the fifth stage rocket motor and encapsulated it in the nose-cone – or fairing – of the United States Air Force's Minotaur V launch vehicle, operated by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va. It was then hooked up to an environmental control system that will keep clean, dry, cool gas flowing into the fairing. After everything was ready, the combined LADEE and fifth stage motor in the fairing was moved from the clean room it had lived in all summer, out to the launch pad, and lifted on top of the rocket stack, with the first through fourth stages already in place.
We are now ready for launch when the window opens on Sept. 6.
МОСКВА, 5 сен — РИА Новости. Лунный орбитальный аппарат НАСА LADEE прошел предстартовые процедуры и готов к запуску — чуть более чем через сутки ракета "Минотавр-5" понесет его к Луне, где в течение трех месяцев он будет исследовать лунную атмосферу, окололунную пыль, а также впервые опробует на этой дистанции лазерную линию связи.
Новое открытие Луны
Проект LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) общей стоимостью 280 миллионов долларов стал одним из элементов программы НАСА Lunar Quest — первой большой программы исследования Луны со времен "Аполлонов", благодаря которой представления ученых о спутнике Земли в последние годы существенно изменились.
Исследования с помощью зондов LRO и LCROSS, а также индийского аппарата "Чандраян", в частности, показали, что Луна вовсе не сухой мир, как считалось ранее, что у лунных полюсов, в вечно затененных кратерах сосредоточены гигантские запасы водяного льда и других летучих веществ. Зонды GRAIL впервые составили точную гравитационную карту Луны и выяснили, что лунные породы содержат в себе гораздо больше пустот, чем считалось ранее. Зонд LADEE, продолжит открывать Луну заново. "С LRO, который еще работает на окололунной орбите, мы исследовали значительную часть поверхности Луны, с помощью зондов GRAIL мы начали исследовать ее недра, а теперь, с LADEE, мы начинаем исследовать таинственную лунную атмосферу", — сказал журналистам заместитель руководителя НАСА Джон Грансфельд (John Grunsfeld).
Сумеречные лучи и левитирующая пыль
Главная задача аппарата — исследование газопылевой оболочки Луны. Ее давление в триллионы раз меньше нормального атмосферного давления на Земле. Если в одном кубическом сантиметре земной атмосферы находится десятки триллионов молекул, то в лунной — около 10 тысяч. Примерно такую же плотность имеет земная атмосфера на высоте орбиты МКС, то есть на высоте около 400 километров. В этом самом внешнем слое земной атмосферы, который называется экзосферой, молекулы газов почти не взаимодействуют друг с другом.
Лунная газовая оболочка состоит в основном из атомов гелия, захваченных из солнечного ветра, атомов аргона, натрия и некоторых других элементов, возникающих при распаде радиоактивных веществ в лунном грунте, а также "выбитых" из него ударами микрометеоритов и заряженных частиц.
С лунной атмосферой связаны загадочные сумеречные лучи, которые наблюдали еще астронавты с борта "Аполлона-17". Незадолго перед восходом Солнца над горизонтом Луны возникало яркое зарево, из которого исходили лучи. Эту картину зарисовал в своем блокноте командир "Аполлона" Юджин Сернан, и тогда это явление поставило ученых в тупик.
Как считают ученые, в лучах восходящего Солнца могла сиять лунная пыль, которая выбрасывается над поверхностью и левитирует над ней, за счет электростатического заряда. "Заряжает" частицы пыли ультрафиолетовая радиация.
С помощью масс-спектрометра NMS, ультрафиолетового спектрометра UVS и прибора для изучения пыли LDEX зонд определит состав и плотность лунной атмосферы, измерит, как эти параметры меняются со временем (плотность лунной атмосферы падает примерно в 100 раз после начала лунной ночи). Ученые рассчитывают точно определить, как падения метеоритов влияют на газопылевую оболочку, а также выяснить, как ведет себя "электрифицированная" пыль. Результаты исследования помогут понять, имеет ли смысл открывать на Луне обсерватории, а также узнать, какое влияние может оказать лунная атмосфера на будущих колонистов.
С помощью LADEE ученые впервые попытаются установить лазерную линию связи между Луной и Землей. В течение первых 30 дней после старта прибор LLCD отправит на Землю мощный лазерный луч и попытается принять ответный луч с Земли. НАСА нуждается в более быстром канале связи, чем радиосвязь. Лазерная связь обеспечивает скорость передачи данных в шесть раз выше, чем радиоканал — до 600 мегабит в секунду. Кроме того, она требует значительно меньшей мощности, чем радиосвязь.
Ученые рассчитывают в случае успеха эксперимента снабжать высокоскоростными лазерными передатчиками другие автоматические станции.
В этой миссии помимо первой попытки создать оптический канал передачи данных на таком большом расстоянии есть еще много слов "первый". Это, в частности, первый запуск аппарата за пределы околоземной орбиты с космодрома на острове Уоллопс — эта стартовая площадка находится в штате Виргиния, и взлет ракет там виден даже в Вашингтоне. Кроме того, это первый запуск новой пятиступенчатой ракеты "Минотавр-5" (Minotaur V), созданной корпорацией Orbital.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2013 Mission managers today gave approval to continue launch preparations for Friday's flight of a Minotaur 5 rocket from Virginia with NASA's moon-bound LADEE spacecraft. The $280 million mission is scheduled to blast off at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday (0327 GMT Saturday) from launch pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Officials met today for the launch readiness review to discuss the status of the launch vehicle, the LADEE spacecraft, ground systems and the weather outlook for Friday night's four-minute launch window. No problems were reported, according to George Diller, a NASA spokesperson. The weather forecast calls for favorable conditions Friday night, with temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit. There is just a 5 percent chance of weather violating launch criteria due to cloudiness moving in from offshore, Diller said. Officials completed a mission dress rehearsal this afternoon to practice countdown procedures ahead of Friday's activities. The 80-foot-tall, five-stage Minotaur 5 rocket is making its first flight. The launch of LADEE also marks the first lunar mission to launch from Wallops. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is beginning a 160-day mission to study the composition and dynamics of the moon's tenuous atmosphere. The late-night launch will be visible along the U.S. East Coast, with viewing opportunities available from South Carolina to New York and inland to the Appalachians. If you're in the area and want to see the launch, check out this map showing its visibility, weather permitting.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2013 Officials report no issues are being worked with the Minotaur 5 rocket, the LADEE spacecraft or ground systems, and everything is on track for launch Friday night at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT). The launch from pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a facility owned and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, should be visible along the U.S. East Coast from South Carolina to New England. If you're in the area and want to see the launch, check out this map showing its visibility, weather permitting. Technicians are today arming the Minotaur rocket's five solid-fueled stages and conducting final checks and closeouts. The launch countdown will begin at T-minus 5 hours at 6:27 p.m. EDT (2237 GMT). The launch team will activate the Minotaur booster, check its communications links with the Wallops range systems, and put the launch vehicle through testing to verify its readiness for liftoff. The launch window Friday night extends for 5 minutes. The weather forecast calls for mostly clear skies and favorable conditions, with just a 5 percent chance of bad weather preventing launch.
Minotaur 5 launch timeline SPACEFLIGHT NOW Posted: August 26, 2013
T-00:00 Liftoff The first stage's decommissioned Peacekeeper SR118 solid rocket motor ignites to begin the Minotaur 5 rocket's mission. Pitch and roll commands two seconds later will put the rocket on the proper trajectory.
T+00:38.5 Max-Q Aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle reaches its peak as the Minotaur 5 accelerates through the lower atmosphere.
T+00:56.9 Stage 1 Sep./Stage 2 Ignition At an altitude of 14 miles, the rocket's ATK-built solid-fueled first stage exhausts its supply of propellant and is jettisoned. The second stage's SR119 motor ignites to continue the flight toward space.
T+02:15.4 Stage 2 Sep./Stage 3 Ignition The second stage SR119 motor, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, burns out at an altitude of 61 miles. The Hercules SR120 third stage motor fires for a 72-second burn.
T+02:43.0 Fairing Jettison The 92-inch graphite-epoxy aluminum honeycomb payload fairing that protected the satellites during the ride through the lower atmosphere is jettisoned as the rocket ascends into space at an altitude of 77 miles.
T+03:27.6 Stage 3 Burnout The Hercules SR120 motor completes its burn and the Minotaur 4 enters a coast period lasting almost 4 minutes, during which the vehicle's altitude will soar to more than 160 miles in altitude.
T+07:11.6 Stage 3 Separation The Minotaur's third stage is released to re-enter Earth's atmosphere.
T+07:22.8 Stage 4 Ignition The Star 48BV solid rocket motor is ignited for an 85-second burn to place the Minotaur 5 rocket into a low-altitude parking orbit.
T+08:47.6 Stage 4 Burnout The Minotaur's fourth stage motor, built by ATK, exhausts its solid propellant after reaching orbit. The launcher begins a coast phase lasting more than 8 minutes before ignition of the fifth stage motor.
T+14:26.9 Stage 4 Separation The Star 48BV fourth stage motor is jettisoned.
T+15:41.9 Stage 5 Spin-up The Minotaur's Star 37FM fifth stage will spin up for stabilization before ignition. The spin also provides better orbital injection accuracy.
T+16:56.9 Stage 5 Ignition The fifth stage motor ignites for a 63-second burn.
T+18:00.4 Stage 5 Burnout The fifth stage burns out after reaching a planned orbit with a low point of 124 miles, a high point of 172,741 miles and an inclination of 37.65 degrees.
T+21:56.9 Stage 5 De-spin Two small yo-yo-like structures are extended and released from the Star 37FM motor to reduce the spinning motion the Minotaur rocket and LADEE are experiencing in preparation for satellite separation.
T+23:26.9 LADEE Separation NASA's LADEE spacecraft deploys from the Minotaur fifth stage to begin its journey to the moon.
!CARF 09/023 (KZNY A0552/13) ZNY AIRSPACE DCC LADEE STATIONARY RESERVATION WITHIN AN AREA BNDD BY 3712N/6139W 3500N/5309W 3400N/5327W 3530N/6211W AREA OUTSIDE US CONTROLLED AIRSPACE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY SFC-UNL WEF 1309070315-1309070415
A0561/13 - QRACA DUE TO MILITARY STATIONARY AIRSPACE RESERVATION "LADEE" WITHIN THE NEW YORK OCEANIC CTA/FIR, NEW YORK OCEANIC WILL NOT ACCEPT IFR FLIGHT WITHIN THAT AIRSPACE BOUNDED BY: 3712N/6139W, 3500N/5309W, 3400N/5327W, 3530N/6211W, TO START POINT. THE FOLLOWING INTERNATIONAL ROUTES WILL BE IMPACTED: M204 AND M327, M328, M329, AND M330 EAST OF BDA ONL. ALL FLIGHTS WITH ROUTES THAT WOULD NORMALLY TRANSIT THIS AREA SHALL USE THE FOLLOWING REROUTES: M204: USE SOORY DCT 3800N/6215W DCT 3700N/6320W DCT ALOBI M204 AND REVERSE M327: USE BDA M327 WINGZ DCT TO A POINT SOUTH OF 3250N/5200W DCT ANY NORTH LATTITUDE AT 5000W AND REVERSE M328: USE BDA M328 NUMBR DCT TO A POINT SOUTH OF 3250N/5200W DCT ANY NORTH LATTITUDE AT 5000W AND REVERSE M329: CLOSED EAST OF BDA M330: CLOSED EAST OF BDA. SFC - UNL, 0315-0415 DLY, 07 SEP 03:15 2013 UNTIL 11 SEP 04:15 2013. CREATED: 05 SEP 11:56 2013
Сказанное выше выражает личную точку зрения автора, основанную на открытых источниках информации
Launch Date: September 6, 2013 Launch Location: Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Virginia Mission Customer: U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)
The inaugural mission of a Minotaur V rocket is scheduled to occur on September 6, 2013 to launch NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment (LADEE) into a lunar transfer orbit. The LADEE mission will be the 24th overall launch of the Minotaur family of vehicles, the fifth Minotaur launch from Wallops Flight Facility, and LADEE will be the 45th satellite launched by a Minotaur rocket.
The mission also represents a number of firsts, including:
First launch of the Minotaur V configuration
First five-stage vehicle flown by Orbital
First Peacekeeper-based vehicle launched from Wallops Flight Facility
First Lunar mission flown by Orbital
First Lunar mission flown from Wallops
Minotaur will boost the LADEE Spacecraft into a highly elliptical orbit of 200 km x 278,000 km around the Earth. Over the next 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. The spacecraft is designed to conduct a 100 day mission to measure lunar dust and examine the lunar atmosphere from an orbit of 50 km above the surface of the Moon. The LADEE program is managed by NASA/Ames Research Center. Orbital conducts Minotaur launches under the U.S. Air Force's Orbital/Suborbital-3 contract, which is managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA. The Space Development and Test Wing, based at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM, oversees Minotaur launches for SMC.
Minotaur V is a five-stage space launch vehicle based on the flight-proven Minotaur IV vehicle and adds a solid motor fifth stage to propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. It leverages the experience of the Air Force's Peacekeeper program, along with the extensive flight heritage of Orbital's Minotaur I, Minotaur IV, Pegasus and Taurus space launch vehicles to produce a highly reliable launcher for U.S. government space programs. 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, and solid fuel commercially-supplied STAR 48BV fourth and STAR 37FM fifth stages. The Minotaur V rocket is capable of launching payloads up to 342 kg (754 lbs) to trans-lunar injection orbit.
Virginia launch site ready to host historic moon shot BY STEPHEN CLARK SPACEFLIGHT NOW Posted: September 5, 2013
A diminutive NASA satellite is wrapped inside the nose cone of a five-stage Minotaur 5 rocket on an austere launch pad on the rural Virginia coastline, ready to begin a circuitous journey to the moon on a $280 million mission to answer enduring questions about the tenuous lunar atmosphere.
The Minotaur 5 rocket on the launch pad. Credit: Patrick Black/NASA
Scientists hope the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will also solve a 45-year-old mystery - a predawn glow over the lunar limb first spotted by NASA's early moon missions, then recounted in journals recorded by Apollo astronauts. And if that's not enough technology packed into the 7.7-foot-tall LADEE spacecraft, the mission will take a key step toward overhauling the way NASA communicates with its deep space missions, potentially leading to a type of interplanetary fiber optic network allowing high-definition video and mounds of data to stream back to Earth fr om rovers on Mars, manned missions visiting asteroids, and probes to other far-flung destinations. "The LADEE mission is going to give us whole new vistas on our nearest neighbor, and I'm very excited about that," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate. Scheduled to blast off at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday (0327 GMT Saturday), the bullet-shaped LADEE spacecraft will soar to space at the tip of a Minotaur 5 rocket. The 80-foot-tall rocket is sitting on launch pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a complex leased and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.
The Minotaur 5 is an extended version of the smaller Minotaur 4 booster, and while all the components of the five-stage rocket have been tested in flight, they have never flown together in this configuration. Powered by decommissioned motors fr om the U.S. Air Force's Peacekeeper ballistic missile program, the Minotaur 5 will rapidly depart the Virginia launch site, illuminating surrounding marshlands as it races east over the Atlantic Ocean. The fiery nighttime launch should be visible along the U.S. East Coast from New England to South Carolina, and to observers as far inland as Pittsburgh.
The Minotaur 5 rocket on the launch pad. Credit: Patrick Black/NASA
Climbing and accelerating over the Atlantic, the Minotaur will fire each of its five solid-fueled motors before releasing the 844-pound LADEE spacecraft over Africa about 23 minutes after liftoff. The Minotaur 5 will deploy LADEE in a lofty elliptical orbit carrying the small satellite as far as 172,000 miles from Earth. After controllers activate LADEE and check its health, LADEE's liquid-fueled propulsion system, procured commercially from Space Systems/Loral, will fire up to three times to raise the craft's orbit high enough to be grasped by the moon's gravity. "[The moon] swings by, whips us around behind it, and then once we come out from behind the moon, we do a big braking burn with our main engine," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, which led the mission's design and development. If LADEE launches on time, the craft should enter lunar orbit in the first week of October. The exact timing of LADEE's maneuvers to reach the moon will hinge on the performance of the Minotaur 5 rocket. Slight deviations in the orbit achieved by the Minotaur rocket could slide LADEE's lunar arrival earlier or later, Hine said.
Communications by laser beam LADEE will initially slip into a unique equatorial orbit about 156 miles above the moon, wh ere the satellite will switch on its laser communications package to begin a 30-day test campaign with a network of ground terminals in New Mexico, California and the Canary Islands. The laser communications demonstration is a secondary objective for the LADEE mission, but its importance is not lost on top NASA officials. "I'm a huge fan of laser communications and one of the reasons is that as you go farther out into the solar system, it's a much more efficient way to get high bandwidth communications at low power," Grunsfeld said. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration will try to transmit data through a four-inch laser beam fired from terminal mounted on the body of the LADEE spacecraft. When the beam reaches Earth, it will paint an area more than 3 miles across.
The LADEE spacecraft before enclosure inside the Minotaur 5's 12.8-foot diameter payload fairing. Credit: NASA Wallops/Terry Zaperach
Laser communications have tighter pointing requirements than traditional radio systems, but a futuristic laser linkup needs less power and less mass than conventional radios, according to Don Cornwell, manager of LADEE's laser payload at Goddard. And the laser communications system on LADEE should transfer at a rate six times higher than radios, Cornwell said. Officials project the laser system will beam 622 megabits per second of data from LADEE to Earth, and the uplink to LADEE will facilitate a bandwidth 20 megabits per second. LADEE will not actually transmit any valuable science data during the 30-day test, but future missions could rely on similar technology to broadcast high-definition video, 3D imagery and other data-intensive products. "Laser communications get more attractive compared to radio as you go farther in the solar system," Cornwell said. "We hope to use these systems from Mars one day."
On the trail of lunar dust At the same time as the laser communications demonstration, LADEE's control team will commission the craft's science payload. Three science instruments are aboard LADEE:
The ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer, led by NASA's Ames Research Center, will remotely sense any dust, including hydrated material like water and the compound hydroxyl, lofted above the moon's surface and determine the composition of the lunar atmosphere.
The neutral mass spectrometer will measure chemical abundances in the lunar atmosphere and allow scientists to study the processes driving the tenuous atmosphere. The neutral mass spectrometer is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
The lunar dust experiment will collect impacts of dust particles to analyze their size and composition. The payload is led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Then comes LADEE's 100-day science mission, in which the small orbiter's instruments will scoop up dust particles, identify the chemical make-up of the moon's atmosphere, and look for signs of hydrated compounds, such as water and hydroxyl (OH), migrating from the moon's middle latitudes toward polar cold traps in permanent shadow, wh ere scientists say ice can sit undisturbed for billions of years. "LADEE has two main science goals: To understand the lunar atmosphere as well as the dust environment around the moon," said Sarah Noble, LADEE's program scientist.
Artist's concept of the LADEE spacecraft at the moon. Credit: NASA
After lowering its orbit for the science phase of its mission, LADEE will dip as close as 12 miles to the moon, skimming mountaintops and sampling material just above the lunar surface. The moon's atmosphere is not what you may envision, Noble said. Its atoms never collide, technically making the lunar atmosphere an exosphere. To get even more specific, the moon has what is called a surface boundary exosphere, a type of nearly airless atmosphere in which the exosphere extends to a body's surface and interacts directly with soil and dust. The moon, Mercury, the moons of other planets, and even large asteroids harbor surface boundary exospheres, making it the most common type of atmosphere in the solar system, Noble said. Previous research shows an isotope of argon called argon-40 is pushed high above the moon's surface when excited by the heat of a lunar sunrise. Scientists also think the solar wind and impacts by asteroids and comets drive material off the surface to form part of the atmosphere. "The lunar atmosphere has hundreds of different components and very unique dynamics," said Greg Delroy, LADEE's deputy project scientist at Ames. Then there is the question of the dust believed to be responsible for the horizon flow witnessed by the Apollo astronauts. Is levitating dust really the cause of the glow, and how does it get suspended tens of miles above the moon? LADEE will try to find out. Delroy said meteor bombardment may be responsible for the presence of dust so far above the surface. The LADEE science team has asked amateur astronomers to monitor the moon for impacts, which could help researchers determine whether a strike causes any change in LADEE's dust readings. Some type of so-far undetected static charge on the moon could also be the culprit in the mystery of the moon dust. "There might be a static charge on the moon, and that area could change as different regions of the moon rotate in and out of sunlight," Delroy said. "That could cause an electrostatic force to act on dust." Noble said now is a good time to launch LADEE because the lunar atmosphere is so delicate it could be disturbed or altered, at least temporarily, by the spacecraft landings kicking up dust. It has been 40 years since the last Apollo landing, and several companies and countries are planning unmanned moon landings in the coming years. Scientists hope LADEE's results will shed light on mysterious atmospheres around other worlds in the solar system, such as Mercury. The advantage of studying the moon is scientists already have lunar samples and know the moon's composition. "The moon is an excellent place to start," Delroy said.