Saturday, September 7, 2013

NASA's LADEE Launches on its Way to the Moon

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer(LADEE) has launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, marking the start of its thirty day voyage to the Moon.

LADEE, which stands for the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, launched atop a U.S. Air Force Minotaur 5 rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility at 4:27 a.m. Irish Time.

After technical checkouts were conducted by teams of flight controllers in NASA Ames Research Center, there seemed to be a problem with the orbiter's reaction wheels, instruments used to position and stablilise LADEE. However, this problem has not affected the orbiter's flight to the Moon, which is explained further by Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden:

"The LADEE spacecraft is working as it was designed to under these conditions – there's no indication of anything wrong with the reaction wheels or spacecraft... The mission team has ample time to resolve this issue before the spacecraft reaches lunar orbit. We don't have to do anything in a rush."

 The lunar orbiter will take 30 days to make the quarter of a million mile journey to our nearest neighbour, complete a further 30 days of system checks, before beginning the prime scientific mission, which is expected to last 100 days.

What Will LADEE study?

Even though we know the Moon is not mad of cheese, there are still mysteries to unravel!

The answer lies in the name of the mission. Using onboard scientific instruments, LADEE will attempt to discover more information about the Moon's extremely thin atmosphere, which is only around 2 cm thick. It will also find out more about conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

This investigation of the Moon can also be used to predict what atmospheric conditions there may be on other dry, rocky worlds like planets like Mercury, as well as other satellites in our Solar System.

Following the mission science phase, LADEE will be decommissioned, and will continue to orbit the Moon at lower and lower altitudes, before impacting the lunar service

You can keep up to date on the LADEE mission by visiting NASA's LADEE Mission page, or by following LADEE on Twitter.

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