The operations team for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission has discovered the spacecraft experienced an anomaly, causing it to use up a substantial amount of its fuel. According to spacecraft data, the LCROSS Internal Reference Unit (IRU) experienced a fault. The IRU is a sensor used by the spacecraft’s attitude control system (ACS) to determine the orientation and trajectory of the spacecraft. The anomaly caused the spacecraft ACS to switch to the Star Tracker Assembly for spacecraft positional information and caused the spacecraft’s thruster to fire excessively, consuming a substantial amount of fuel. Initial estimates, however, indicate that the spacecraft still contains sufficient fuel to complete the full mission.
LCROSS is scheduled to impact the lunar south pole in early October.
The team discovered the problem during a communications pass with the spacecraft on August 22, 2009. Mission operations declared a ‘spacecraft emergency’ and were allocated additional communications time on the Deep Space Network. The team conducted procedures to mitigate the problem and were able to restart the IRU and reduce fuel consumption to a nominal level. Automatic operations procedures also were implemented to minimize the possibility of another IRU anomaly from occurring while the spacecraft is out of contact with the ground.
Thankfully, since the re-start of the IRU, the spacecraft has not experienced any additional problems.
The team continues to actively assess and mitigate the situation and is in contact with the manufacturers of the IRU and star tracker to investigate the root cause of the problems. Mission managers remain optimistic the LCROSS mission can reach its successful conclusion with projected impact at the lunar south pole currently set for 4:30 a.m. PDT on Oct. 9, 2009.
LCROSS launched with the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter on June 18, 2009. The main LCROSS mission objective is to confirm the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed region near a lunar pole. Learn more about LCROSS and LRO here.
The LCROSS spacecraft took a look back at Earth, and guess what it saw? Evidence of intelligence? Not so much. But it did see evidence of life. On Aug. 1, 2009, the LCROSS spacecraft took a gander at Earth to help calibrate and test its science payload. During the Earth observations, the spacecraft’s spectrometers were able to detect the signatures of the Earth’s water, ozone, methane, oxygen, carbon dioxide and possibly vegetation.
Phil Plait explained on Bad Astronomy that this spectrum covers part of the ultraviolet and visible range of light, and this type of observation with better instruments in the future could help us find life on other planets. Phil wrote. “You can see that LCROSS clearly detected ozone (O3) and water, which you might see on any old planet. But it also saw a feature that is from free oxygen (O2), something you don’t see just anywhere .… The only reason we have a lot of it in our air (more than 20% of the Earth’s atmosphere is O2) is because we have life in the form of plants.” Check out Phil’s post here.
The spacecraft also took these images of Earth, again, helping to refine camera exposure settings, check instrument pointing alignment, and check radiometric and wavelength calibrations.
LCROSS is in an elongated Earth orbit, and on course to impact the Moon’s south pole in October. From its current vantage point of 223,700 miles (360,000 km) from Earth, the LCROSS science team changed exposure and integration settings on the spacecraft’s infrared cameras and spectrometers and performed a crossing pattern, pushing the smaller fields of view of the spectrometers across the Earth’s disk. At this range, the Earth was approximately 2.2 degrees in diameter.
“The Earth-look was very successful,” said Tony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist. “The instruments are all healthy and the science teams was able to collect additional data that will help refine our calibrations of the instruments.”
An additional Earth-look and a moon-look are scheduled for the remainder of the cruise phase of the mission.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its braking thrusters for 40 minutes early today, successfully inserting the spacecraft into orbit around the Moon. Over the next several days, LRO’s instruments will be turned on and its orbit will be fine-tuned. Then LRO will begin its primary mission of mapping the lunar surface to find future landing sites and searching for resources that would make possible a permanent human presence on the moon. Also, early Tuesday, the companion mission Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) sent back live video as it flew 9,000 km above the Moon, as it enters its elongated Earth orbit, which will bring it on course to impact the Moon’s south pole in October.
The two spacecraft reached the Moon four-and-a-half days after launch. LRO’s rocket firing began around 9:20 GMT (5:47 a.m. EDT) and ended at 10:27 GME (6:27 a.m. EDT), putting the spacecraft into an orbit tilted 30 degrees from the moon’s poles with a low point of 218 km (136 miles) and a high point of 3,000 km (1,926 miles). Over the next five days, additional rocket firings will put the spacecraft into the correct orbit for making its observations for the prime mission, which lasts a year — a polar orbit of about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, the closest any spacecraft has orbited the moon.
Meanwhile, at 12:20 GMT (8:20 EDT) on Tuesday, LCROSS made a relatively close flyby of the Moon, sending back live streaming video. Watch the replay here.
LCROSS is now in its “cruise phase” and will be monitored by the mission operations team. During the flyby, the science team was able to obtain the data needed to focus and adjust the cameras and spectrometers correctly for impact.
LCROSS will never actually be lunar orbit, but is working its way to an elongated Earth orbit which will eventually bring it to the correct orientation for meeting up with the south pole of the Moon later this year. LCROSS will search for water ice on the moon by sending the spent upper-stage Centaur rocket to impact part of a polar crater in permanent shadows. The LCROSS spacecraft will fly into the plume of dust left by the impact and measure the properties before also colliding with the lunar surface.
On Tuesday morning, the LCROSS spacecraft will fly by the Moon only 9,000 km above the lunar surface and send back live streaming video for about an hour. This relatively close encounter with the Moon, will help put LCROSS in the correct position to impact the lunar surface in October. LCROSS will never actually be lunar orbit, but is working its way to an elongated Earth orbit which will eventually bring it to the correct orientation for meeting up with the south pole of the Moon later this year. LCROSS will search for water ice on the moon by sending the spent upper-stage Centaur rocket to impact part of a polar crater in permanent shadows. The LCROSS spacecraft will fly into the plume of dust left by the impact and measure the properties before also colliding with the lunar surface. Live video streaming of the flyby begins at approximately 12:20 GMT (8:20 EDT) on Tuesday, June 23, 2009. Click here to watch.
The LCROSS instrumentation will send back data to Earth for approximately one hour. The first 30 minutes will contain a view of the lunar surface from an altitude of approximately 9,000 km. The video feed is set to display one frame per second. During the latter 30 minutes, the spacecraft will perform multiple scans of the moon’s horizon to calibrate its sensors. During this latter half hour, the video image will update only occasionally. The 3D visualization stream will show the spacecraft position and attitude throughout the swingby.