NASA Science Probe Blazes Spectacular Trail to the Moon from Virginia

by Ken Kremer on September 7, 2013

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This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com

This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com
Story updated

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – A NASA moon probe named LADEE thundered to space tonight, Sept. 6, blazing a spectacular trail to orbit from a beachside launch pad in Virginia that was easily visible to tens of millions of spectators along the eastern seaboard as a result of crystal clear skies and the night time liftoff – see magnificent photo shot from NYC above by Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com.

The drama at the LADEE launch site on the eastern shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Island facility was palpable due to the historic and experimental nature of the mission.

Hordes of tourists flooded into Virginia to be eyewitnesses to an unprecedented space spectacle that marked Americas ‘Return to the Moon’ and a chance to see the type of big and exciting rocket launches previously reserved for Florida and California.

Everyone I spoke too was absolutely overwhelmed with the amazing beauty of the Minotaur V blastoff carrying LADEE to orbit, whooping and hollering, far beyond our wildest expectations as the crackling fire pierced through the night and reverberated in our ears!

“It was a picture perfect launch,” said NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld at a post launch media briefing at NASA Wallops.

“LADEE will help us unravel the mysteries of the lunar atmosphere.”

Blastoff of NASA’s dust exploring Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory marked the first space probe of any kind ever launched beyond Earth orbit from NASA Wallops, as well as being the first planetary science mission from Wallops.

LADEE's launch aboard a Minotaur V on Sept. 6, 2013. Credit: NASA Wallops/Chris Perry

LADEE’s launch aboard a Minotaur V on Sept. 6, 2013. Credit: NASA Wallops/Chris Perry

The Minotaur V rocket launched precisely on time at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the powerful new Minotaur V rocket Launch Pad 0B on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

“The spacecraft is healthy and power positive and separated from the fifth and last stage on time, approximately 23 minutes into the flight,” said Pete Worden to Universe Today after the liftoff. Worden is the Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center which designed and built LADEE using a revolutionary new design to reduce costs and increase science output.

Ignition of Minotaur V rocket launching NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, Virginia, media viewing site 2 miles away. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Ignition of Minotaur V rocket launching NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, Virginia, media viewing site 2 miles away. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia, viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia, media viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia, viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia, media viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The liftoff of LADEE (pronounced ‘laddie’ not ‘lady’) also marks the first launch of a five stage rocket and the first launch of a decommissioned Peacekeeper missile from Wallops. The Peacekeeper was a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile ICBM built during the Cold War – now retired and refurbished by Orbital for peaceful uses.

The Minotaur V fifth stage boosted LADEE into a highly elliptical orbit. Over about the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the apogee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board braking thrusters to achieve lunar orbit.

Gantry doors open to expose Minotaur V rocket launching LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon on Sept 6, 2013 from Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Gantry doors open to expose Minotaur V rocket launching LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon on Sept 6, 2013 from Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The mission will fly in a very low science orbit of about 50 kilometers altitude above the moon that will require considerable fuel to maintain. The science mission duration is approximately 100 days.

The 844 pound (383 kg) robot explorer is the size of a couch and was assembled at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and is a cooperative project with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.

It is equipped with a trio of science instruments whose purpose is to collect data that will inform scientists in unprecedented detail about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, environmental influences on lunar dust and conditions near the surface.

The goal of the $280 Million mission is to gain a thorough understanding of long-standing unknowns about the tenuous atmosphere, dust and surface interactions that will help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

The LADEE satellite in lunar orbit.   The revolutionary modular science probe is equipped with a Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) that will attempt to show two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data. This new ability could one day allow for 3-D High Definition video transmissions in deep space to become routine.  Credit: NASA

The LADEE satellite in lunar orbit. The revolutionary modular science probe is equipped with a Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) that will attempt to show two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data. This new ability could one day allow for 3-D High Definition video transmissions in deep space to become routine. Credit: NASA

The couch sized probe is built on a revolutionary ‘modular common spacecraft bus’, or body, that could dramatically cut the cost of exploring space and also be utilized on space probes to explore a wide variety of inviting targets in the solar system. The overall mission cost is approximately $280 million.

“LADEE is the first in a new class of interplanetary exploration missions,” NASA Ames Director Worden told Universe Today. “It will study the pristine moon to study significant questions.”

“This is probably our last best chance to study the pristine Moon before there is a lot of human activity there changing things.”

The five stage Minotaur V rocket stands 80.6 feet (24.6 meters) tall, is 7.6 feet (2.3 m) in diameter and weighs 197,034 pounds (89,373 kilograms).

Gantry doors open to expose Minotaur V rocket launching LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon on Sept 6, 2013 from Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Gantry doors open to expose Minotaur V rocket launching LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon on Sept 6, 2013 from Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The first three stages of the Minotaur V are based on the nuclear armed Peacekeeper ICBM intercontinental ballistic missile built during the Cold War – now retired and refurbished by Orbital Sciences for peaceful uses.

The upper 5th stage is a new addition and what makes this Minotaur a new rocket class. The additional thrust is what converts the Minotaur V into an interplanetary booster that enables shooting for the Moon.

“I dreamed all my life about launching a rocket to the moon. And now we are doing it,” Lou Amorosi, told Universe Today at the Minotuar launch pad. Amorosi is the Senior Vice President of Orbital’s Small Space Launch Vehicle business.

“This mission further demonstrates the capabilities of our well-established Minotaur rocket family and our commitment to providing reliable access to space,” Amorosi noted in a post launch statement.

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about LADEE, Cygnus, Antares, MAVEN, Orion, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Sep 16/17: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

LADEE post launch news briefing at NASA Wallops, VA with  Air Force Col. Urban Gillespie, Minotaur mission director from the Space Development and Test Directorate, John Grunsfeld, Astronaut and    NASA Associate Administrator for Science, Pete Worden, Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

LADEE post launch news briefing at NASA Wallops, VA with Air Force Col. Urban Gillespie, Minotaur mission director from the Space Development and Test Directorate, John Grunsfeld, Astronaut and NASA Associate Administrator for Science, Pete Worden, Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Lou Amorosi, VP of Orbital Sciences Small Spacecraft Launch Vehicles and Ken Kremer of Universe Today with LADEE and Minotaur V rocket at Launch Pad.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Lou Amorosi, VP of Orbital Sciences Small Spacecraft Launch Vehicles and Ken Kremer of Universe Today with LADEE and Minotaur V rocket at Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Island. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

LADEE_Poster_01

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com

Kevin Frushour September 7, 2013 at 11:34 AM

I assumed the Alleghenies would block it from Pittsburgh and we had clouds anyway.

gopher652003 September 7, 2013 at 1:03 PM

I’ve been worried about Orbital’s ability to deliver after their failures over the past few years, so it’s great to see them have a second high profile launch go picture perfect:). Hopefully this means they’re found the issue(s) that was causing the launch failures.

Here’s to more picture perfect launches from Orbital in the future!

Michael Waldrop September 7, 2013 at 5:47 PM

i was surprised i could see it here just north of charlotte, i thought i would be to far away.

Olaf2 September 7, 2013 at 6:51 PM

It makes me happy that more satellites are sent towards the Moon.
The closest big object near Earth and we know less than every other planet out there.

I hope they send robots too pretty soon.

Kevin Frushour September 7, 2013 at 8:55 PM

Caves there! I want to see in the caves!

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE September 8, 2013 at 3:14 AM

The Minotaur V fifth stage boosted LADEE into a highly elliptical orbit. Over about the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit.

That underlined bit is incorrect; according to The Planetary Society, it should be: The spacecraft will conduct rocket burns at each perigee in order to raise the apogee of its orbit.*

* (I did e-mail both Ken and Nancy about that – and neither them have bothered to fix it!)

Bill September 9, 2013 at 2:27 AM

Please explain me: 1969. three persons spent ONLY 3 days to the Moon, but sonda needs a month to get to the Moon. Why?

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE September 9, 2013 at 4:39 AM

Because the Apollo Command/Service Module used a large amount of fuel to achieve a rapid Trans Lunar Injection, whereas (“sonda”?) LADEE is using a slower, fuel efficient method.

Olaf2 September 9, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Different trajectory. Life support is limited with Apollo so getting there faster was desired but also required much more fuel.

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