Lunar Exploration to Begin
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2013 — NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has entered its planned orbit around the moon’s equator and is ready to begin collecting science data about our only natural satellite.
LADEE entered orbit on Nov. 20 and now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles above the surface, NASA said. Its unique position at the equator allows the small probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night, providing a full scope of the changes and processes occurring within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere.
For about 100 days, the spacecraft will gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset. Courtesy of NASA Ames/Dana Berry.
“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,” said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington.
Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.
“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, LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “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.”
Artist Concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) demonstrating Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD). Courtesy of NASA.
LADEE’s science instruments include the Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) and the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), which will collect and analyze particles in the atmosphere.
When the spacecraft launched on Sept. 6, it also carried the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, NASA’s first high-data-rate laser communication system. It is designed to enable satellite communication at rates similar to those of high-speed fiber optic networks on Earth. The system was tested successfully during the commissioning phase of the mission, while LADEE was still at a higher altitude, setting a laser communications download record of 622 Mb/s.
For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/ladee
- laser communications
- A kind of spectrograph in which some form of detector, other than a photographic film, is used to measure the distribution of radiation in a particular wavelength region.
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