Skeleton Crew gets LADEE in Orbit, Checked Out and Fires Revolutionary Laser During Gov’t Shutdown

NASA’s new LADEE spacecraft successfully entered lunar orbit, is operating beautifully and has begun shooting its radical laser communications experiment despite having to accomplish a series of absolutely critical do-or-die orbital insertion engine firings with a “skeleton crew ” – all this amidst the NASA and US government shutdown, NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden told Universe Today in a LADEE mission exclusive.

During the two and a half week long NASA shutdown, engineers had to fire LADEE’s maneuvering thrusters three times over six days – first to brake into elliptical orbit about the Moon and then lower it significantly and safely into a circular commissioning orbit.

“All burns went super well,” Ames Center Director Worden told me exclusivly. And he is extremely proud of the entire team of “dedicated” professional men and women who made it possible during the shutdown.

“It says a lot about our people’s dedication and capability when a skeleton crew can get a new spacecraft into lunar orbit and fully commissioned in the face of a shutdown!” Worden said to Universe Today.

“I’m really happy that everyone’s back.”

After achieving orbit, a pair of additional engine burns reduced LADEE’s altitude and period into its initial commissioning orbit and teams began the month long activation and instrument checkout phase.

“We are at the commissioning orbit of 250 km,” said Worden.

And to top all that off, LADEE’s quartet of science instruments are checked out and the ground – breaking laser communications experiment that will bring about a quantum leap in transmitting space science data has already begun its work!

“All instruments are fully checked out with covers deployed.”

“We’ve begun the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) tests and its working very well,” Worden explained.

NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter will firing its main engine on Oct. 6 to enter lunar orbit in the midst of the US government shutdown. Credit: NASA
NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter fired its main engine on Oct. 6 to enter lunar orbit in the midst of the US government shutdown. Credit: NASA

And that’s the whole point of the LADEE mission in the first place.

97% of NASA’s employees were furloughed during the utterly chaotic and wasteful partial shutdown of the US government that lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17 and also temporarily threatened the upcoming launch of NASA’s next mission to Mars – the MAVEN orbiter.

However, orbital mechanics follows the natural laws of the Universe, continues unabated and waits for no one in Washington, D.C.

NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter also flew by Earth amidst the DC shutdown showdown on Oct. 9 for a similarly critical do-or-die gravity assisted speed boost and trajectory targeting maneuver.

The stakes were extremely high for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission because the spacecraft was on course for the Moon and absolutely had to ignite its main engine on the Sunday morning of Oct. 6.

There were no second chances. If anything failed, LADEE would simply sail past the Moon with no hope of returning later.

So, mission controllers at NASA Ames commanded LADEE to ignite its main engine and enter lunar orbit on Oct. 6 following the spectacular Sept. 6 night launch from NASA’s Wallops Island spaceport in Virginia.

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, viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The approximately four minute long burn know as Lunar Orbit Insertion burn 1 (LOI-1) began with LADEE’s arrival at the Moon following three and a half long looping orbits of the Earth.

LOI-1 changed the spacecrafts velocity by 329.8 meters/sec so that the couch sized probe could be captured by the Moon’s gravity and be placed into a 24 hour polar elliptical orbit.

The LOI-2 maneuver on Oct. 9 put LADEE into a 4-hour elliptic lunar orbit. The third and final LOI-3 burn occurred on Oct. 12, and put the spacecraft into the 2-hour commissioning orbit (roughly 235 Km x 250 Km), according to a NASA statement.

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

“LADEE is the first NASA mission with a dedicated laser communications experiment,” said Don Cornwell, mission manager for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, during an interview with Universe Today at the LADEE launch.

“With the LLCD experiment, we’ll use laser communications to demonstrate at least six times more data rate from the moon than what we can do with a radio system with half the weight and 25 percent less power,” said Cornwell.

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 LLCD will be operated for about 30 days during the time of the commissioning orbit period.

The purpose of LADEE 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. In turn this will lead to a better understanding of other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond.

The $280 million 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.

“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.”

Stay tuned here for continuing LADEE news

Ken Kremer

LADEE_Poster_01

Juno Careening to Earth for Critical Flyby Boost and Cool Movie Making on Oct. 9 – Watch SLOOH Live

Trajectory Map of Juno’s Earth Flyby on Oct. 9, 2013
The Earth gravity assist is required to accelerate Juno’s arrival at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and will capture an unprecedented movie of the Earth/Moon system. Credit: NASA/JPL
Details on how to watch via Slooh – see below [/caption]

NASA’s solar powered Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter is careening towards Earth for an absolutely critical gravity assisted fly by speed boost while capturing an unprecedented movie view of the Earth/Moon system – on its ultimate quest to unveiling Jupiter’s genesis!

“Juno will flyby Earth on October 9 to get a gravity boost and increase its speed in orbit around the Sun so that it can reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016,” Juno chief scientist Dr. Scott Bolton told Universe Today in an exclusive new Juno mission update – as the clock is ticking to zero hour. “The closest approach is over South Africa.”

All this ‘high frontier’ action comes amidst the utterly chaotic US government partial shutdown, that threatened the launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter, has halted activity on many other NASA projects and stopped public announcements of the safe arrival of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Oct. 6, Juno’s flyby and virtually everything else related to NASA!

Bolton confirmed that the shutdown fortunately hasn’t altered or killed Juno’s flyby objectives. And ops teams at prime contractor Lockheed Martin have rehearsed and all set.

And some more good news is that Slooh will track the Juno Earth Flyby “LIVE” – for those hoping to follow along. Complete details below!

“The shutdown hasn’t affected our operations or plans, Bolton told me. Bolton is Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“Juno is 100% healthy.”

“But NASA is unable to participate in our public affairs and press activities,” Bolton elaborated.

NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL

97% of NASA’s employees are furloughed – including public affairs – due to the legal requirements of the shutdown!

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno will also capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.

A full up science investigation of our Home Planet by Juno is planned, that will also serve as a key test of the spacecraft and its bevy of state of the art instruments.

“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach.

“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.

The flyby will accelerate the spacecraft’s velocity by 16,330 mph.

Where is the best view of Juno’s flyby, I asked?

“The closest approach is over South Africa and is about 500 kilometers [350 miles],” Bolton replied.

The time of closest approach is 3:21 p.m. EDT (12:21 PDT / 19:21 UTC) on Oct. 9, 2013

Watch this mission produced video about Juno and the Earth flyby:

Video caption: On Oct. 9, 2013, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft is making a quick pass to get a gravity boost from the mother planet. Dr. Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute® is the Juno mission principal investigator, leading an international science team seeking to answer some fundamental questions about the gas giant and, in turn, about the processes that led to formation of our solar system.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 to begin a 2.8 billion kilometer science trek to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

Juno is on a 5 year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to the largest planet in our solar system. When it arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

During a one year science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s genesis and evolution.

The goal is to find out more about the planets origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core

Why does Juno need a speed boost from Earth?

“A direct mission to Jupiter would have required about 50 percent more fuel than we loaded,” said Tim Gasparrini, Juno program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.

“Had we not chosen to do the flyby, the mission would have required a bigger launch vehicle, a larger spacecraft and would have been more expensive.”

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Viewers near Cape Town, South Africa will have the best opportunity to view the spacecraft traveling across the sky.

Juno itself will most likely not be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars or a small telescope with a wide field should provide an opportunity to view, according to a Slooh statement.

Slooh will track Juno live on October 9th, 2013.

Check here for international starting times: http://goo.gl/7ducFs – and for the Slooh broadcast hosted by Paul Cox.

Viewers can view the event live on Slooh.com using their computer or mobile device, or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store. Questions can be asked during the broadcast via Twitter by using the hashtag #nasajuno -says Slooh.

Amidst the government shutdown, Juno prime contractor Lockheed Martin is working diligently to ensure the mission success.

Because there are NO 2nd chances!

“The team is 100 percent focused on executing the Earth flyby successfully,” said Gasparrini.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at possible off-nominal conditions. In the presence of a fault, the spacecraft will stay healthy and will perform as planned.”

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

And be sure to check back here for my post-flyby update.

What’s not at all clear is whether Juno will detect any signs of ‘intelligent life’ in Washington D.C.!

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Juno, LADEE, MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, the Gov’t shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 8: “NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”& “Curiosity, MAVEN, Juno and Orion updates”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

LADEE Successfully Enters Lunar Orbit on Oct. 6 Amidst Government Shutdown

NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter will fire its main engine on Oct. 6 to enter lunar orbit in the midst of the US government shutdown. Credit: NASA
See the orbit insertion animation below[/caption]

Update Oct 6: LADEE fired its main engine this morning (Oct. 6) at 6:57 a.m. EDT and successfully achieved lunar orbit. Headline/story revised.

NASA’s trailblazing LADEE lunar spacecraft is set to ignite its main engine and enter lunar orbit on Sunday morning, Oct. 6 – if all goes well – following the spectacular Sept. 6 night launch from NASA’s Virginia spaceport.

And in a happenstance no one could have foreseen, the critical engine firing comes smack in the midst of the political chaos reigning in Washington D.C. that has shut down the US government, furloughed 97% of NASA’s employees, and temporarily threatened the upcoming launch of NASA’s next mission to Mars – the MAVEN orbiter.

However, orbital mechanics waits for no one!

A source indicated that LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) mission operations were continuing leading up to the engine burn.

But there will be virtually a complete news blackout and little public information released due to the legal requirements of the shutdown.

NASA websites, which are amongst the most heavily trafficked, as well as NASA TV have been shuttered during the shutdown and the press office is likewise furloughed.

So it was do or die for LADEE with the four minute long braking thruster firing set to start on Oct. 6 at 6:57 a.m. EDT (10:57 UTC), so that the couch sized spacecraft is captured by the Moon’s gravity.

Fortunately, LADEE was deemed “essential” and a small team of engineers is working right now at mission control at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

If the had burn failed, LADEE will swing by the moon with no hope of returning. And this is being accomplished with a skeleton crew thanks to the government shutdown.

Here’s a video animation of orbital capture at the moon:


Video caption: This video shows the LADEE lunar orbit capture scheduled to take place at 10:57 UTC on 6 Oct. 2013. The main view is an Earth centered perspective showing the effect of the Moon’s gravity on the orbit and then how a Lunar orbit looks from the Earth. The inset view shows the same trajectory from the perspective of the Moon.

Dubbed LOI-1 (Lunar Orbit Insertion burn 1),it is designed to begin with LADEE’s arrival at the Moon after three and a half orbits of the Earth. It will change the spacecrafts velocity by 329.8 meters/sec.

LOI-1 is the first of three main engine maneuvers and will place LADEE into a 24 hour retrograde orbit, with a periselene altitude of 590 km (369 mi).

LOI-2 follows on Oct. 9 to place LADEE into a 4 hour orbit with a 250 km (156 mi) periselene altitude.

Finally LOI-3 on Oct. 12 places LADEE into a roughly circular 250 km (156 mi) orbit that initiates a 30 day commissioning phase as well as experiments using the on-board Lunar Laser Communications Experiment (LLCD) before the start of the missions science phase.

LADEE thundered to space atop the maiden launch of the five stage Minotaur V rocket on Sept. 6, blazing a spectacular trail to orbit from a beachside launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

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

The blastoff was easily visible to tens of millions of thrilled spectators up and down the eastern seaboard stretching from Maine to the Carolinas as a result of crystal clear skies and the night time liftoff.

The LADEE liftoff at 11:27 p.m. EDT 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 ever launched from Wallops.

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, viewing site 2 miles away. Antares rocket launch pad at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Eventually the spacecraft will fly in a very low equatorial science orbit of about 50 kilometers (31 mi) altitude above the moon that will require considerable fuel to maintain. The science mission duration is approximately 100 days, limited by the amount of maneuvering fuel.

The 844 pound (383 kg) robot explorer 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 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.

“LADEE is the first in a new class of interplanetary exploration missions,” NASA Ames Director Pete Worden told Universe Today in an interview. “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.”

Stay tuned here for continuing LADEE news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about LADEE, MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, the Gov’t shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 8: “NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”& “Curiosity and MAVEN updates”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

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NASA Science Probe Blazes Spectacular Trail to the Moon from Virginia

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[/caption]

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

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How to See the Historic LADEE Nighttime Moon Shot on Sept. 6

Minotaur V rocket and LADEE spacecraft launch trajectory view as should be seen from atop the Empire State Building, NY, on Sept. 6, 2013 at 11:27 p.m. EDT – weather permitting.
See more launch trajectory viewing graphics below[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – An unprecedented spectacle is set to light up the skies this Friday night, Sept. 6, courtesy of NASA when America returns to the Moon with the history making nighttime launch of the LADEE lunar orbiter atop a retired and specially converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from NASA’s Wallops Island facility on the Virginia shoreline.

Blastoff of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory atop the maiden flight of the powerful new Minotaur V rocket is slated for 11:27 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 from Launch Pad 0B along the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA Wallops.

Because it’s at night and lifting off from the most densely populated region of the United States, the flames spewing from the tail of Minotaur could be visible to tens of millions of distant spectators – weather permitting – who have never before witnessed such a rocket launch.

So you don’t have to be watching locally to join in the fun and excitement. And you can always watch the NASA TV webcast online on a smartphone or laptop.

Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Wright Brothers Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC
Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Wright Brothers Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC

The LADEE (pronounced ‘laddie’ not ‘lady’) launch is historic in many ways.

No space satellite has ever been launched to beyond Earth orbit from NASA’s Wallops’s launch base in Virginia, it’s the first flight to the Moon from Wallops, the first Minotaur V rocket launch based on the Peacekeeper missile, and it’s the first flight of the revolutionary new modular spacecraft design aimed at significantly cutting the cost of exploring space.

So although the very best views are available from local areas in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware just tens of miles away from the Wallops Island launch pad, magnificent viewing opportunities are available from a broad region up and down the East Coast and into the interior.

LADEE_Poster_01

Let’s look at some viewing maps courtesy of Orbital Sciences, the company responsible for assembling the Minotaur V and integrating it with the LADEE spacecraft – built by NASA’s Ames Research Center.

First up is the Maximum elevation map showing how high the rocket will be visible in degrees from the heavily populated US East Coast stretching from Maine to both Carolinas and into the industrial Midwest.

LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map  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. Credit: Orbital Sciences
LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
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. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Herein are a series of graphics showing the Minotaur V trajectory and what you should see – during firings of the first three stages – from the perspective of standing on the ground or skyscrapers at a variety of popular destinations including the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC, Atlantic City, NJ, New York City, Cape Cod and more.

US Capitol
US Capitol
Cape Cod, MA
Cape Cod, MA
Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
New York City (Battery Park)
New York City (Battery Park)

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.

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 for peaceful uses. It’s literally beating swords into plowshares.

The 5th stage is a new addition and what makes this Minotaur a new rocket class. The added thrust is precisely what enables shooting for the Moon.

Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Atlantic City, NJ
Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Atlantic City, NJ

For anyone coming to the Wallops area for an eyewitness view of the launch, NASA worked with local officials to establish several viewing locations just 10 miles or so from the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

Visitors to the area may view the launch from Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague or Beach Road spanning the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.

Both sites will feature a live countdown and broadcast and NASA personnel will be on hand to discuss the LADEE launch and goals of the mission.

A big-screen projector will broadcast live in Robert Reed Park beginning at 9:30 p.m.

“We’re excited about this partnership with the community in providing an enhanced launch experience to members of the public,” said Jeremy Eggers, public information officer for NASA Wallops in a statement. “The live countdown and launch broadcast will place people in mission control on launch night for what is already a historic mission for Wallops and the Eastern Shore.”

NASA TV starts a live broadcast of the launch at 9:30 p.m. on Sept 6 – available here: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter unveiled at NASA Wallops launch pad.  Credit: NASA EDGE/Franklin Fitzgerald
Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter unveiled at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: NASA EDGE/Franklin Fitzgerald

The couch sized 844 pound (383 kg) robotic explorer is equipped with 3 science instruments and a laser technology demonstrator.

These include an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer that will gather detailed information about the composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere; a neutral mass spectrometer to measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over time; a laser dust experiment that will collect and analyze dust particle samples; and a laser communications experiment that will test the use of lasers in place of radio waves for high speed data communications with Earth.

Be sure to watch for my continuing LADEE and Antares launch reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

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

Sep 5/6/16/17: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

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

Close-up view of STAR 37FM 5th stage solid fuel motor of Minotaur V rocket at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
LADEE’s Ticket to the Moon – 5th Stage of new Minotaur V rocket
Close-up view of STAR 37 5th stage solid fuel motor for inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. LADEE will be mounted on top and surrounded by the payload fairing attached at bottom ring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Historic Sept. 6 Virginia Moon Shot Heralds Revolutionary New Paradigm for Fundamental Science Query- NASA Director Interview

In an exclusive new interview with Universe Today, NASA’s Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden was “very excited” to discuss the historic Moon Shot set to launch NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter from the Virginia coast and the NASA Wallops Island facility on Friday night, Sept. 6, that boasts “a new modular design” that can revolutionize how we explore our solar system “with robotic orbiters, landers and rovers” – and is aimed at “answering fundamental science questions.”

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

“And it will demonstrate a new modular approach that will give us science at a lower cost. We are very excited.”

“It will tell us a lot about the moon,” Worden told me.

When America returns to the Moon with the LADEE spacecraft blasting off shortly before midnight Sept. 6, it could potentially be watched by many tens of millions of spectators – weather permitting – along the US East Coast stretching from Maine to the Carolina’s and into parts of the Midwest. See launch visibility map below.

LADEE Minotaur V Launch - Maximum Elevation Map 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. Credit: Orbital Sciences
LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
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. Credit: Orbital Sciences

And the science timing for LADEE’s lunar mission is just perfect as well since several countries and corporations are gearing up to dispatch a batch of new orbiters and landers to Earth’s nearest neighbor that could change its character forever.

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

The purpose of LADEE’s trio of science instruments 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.

Engineers from NASA's Ames Research Center have successfully completed launch preparation activities for blastoff of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory on Sept. 6. The revolutionary modular science probe has been encapsulated into the nose-cone of the maiden Minotaur V rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.  Credit:  NASA Ames
Engineers from NASA’s Ames Research Center have successfully completed launch preparation activities for blastoff of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory on Sept. 6. The revolutionary modular science probe has been encapsulated into the nose-cone of the maiden Minotaur V rocket at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: NASA Ames

The couch sized probe is built on a ‘modular common spacecraft bus’, or body, that could be implemented on space probes to explore a wide variety of targets in the solar system.

“We think the modular bus is a winner,” Worden explained to Universe Today.

“LADEE could lead to other low cost missions to orbit and even land on the Moon, near Earth asteroids, Mercury and also the moons of Mars.”

“The LADEE bus is a strong contender for future NASA planetary missions, especially landers on bodies with a tenuous atmosphere. And small micro-rovers are possible too. We are really proud of it!”

A computer-generated model of the LADEE spacecraft based on the modular common spacecraft bus. Credit: NASA/Ames
A computer-generated model of the LADEE spacecraft based on the modular common spacecraft bus. Credit: NASA/Ames

LADEE is NASA’s first ever planetary mission to launch from the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island. The blastoff is expected to draw large crowds. Some local hotels are already sold out.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory is NASA’s next mission to the Moon.

It thunder’s to space at 11:27 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, from launch complex 0B at NASA’s Wallops Island facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) atop the maiden flight of the new, solid fueled Minotaur V rocket developed by Orbital Sciences Corp.

Close-up view of STAR 37FM 5th stage solid fuel motor of Minotaur V rocket at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
LADEE’s Ticket to the Moon – 5th Stage of new Minotaur V rocket
Close-up view of STAR 37 5th stage solid fuel motor for inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. LADEE will be mounted on top and surrounded by the payload fairing attached at bottom ring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.

“After Apollo, the amazing thing is that we opened as many questions as we answered,” said Worden. “One of the key issues is – What is the environment on the Moon’s surface from the lunar day to the lunar night?”

“And what are the limitations that would place on our activities there?”

“Although the moon has a tenuous atmosphere it’s actually very active and interacts very strongly with the solar wind. It may produce something that on Earth we would call a ‘dust storm’.”

“We also wish to have the ‘ground truth’ [measurements] of the Moon’s environment before humans change things.”

And change is inexorably coming to the Moon rather soon.

“The Chinese plan to land on the Moon by year’s end,” Worden elaborated.

“What we found during Apollo is that an artificial disturbance very considerably changes the Moon’s atmosphere – or exosphere.”

“So we really want to known the pristine state of the lunar exosphere before its changed by human activity.”

“The data we have from Apollo surface measurements shows that it took many months for the lunar exosphere to go back to its pristine state.”

“Now there are probably a half dozen to a dozen programs planning to land on the Moon in the next decade. So we may never see the Moon’s pristine state again!”

“So these are pretty significant questions that we will have an opportunity to answer with LADEE.”

LADEE Science Instrument locations
LADEE Science Instrument locations

LADEE is the first spacecraft of any kind that’s been designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

“This is our first complete mission built out at Ames,” Worden explained.

“It’s also the first of a new paradigm where we are trying to develop a low cost modular bus design.

The approach on LADEE was to make it a mix and match modular bus – rather than a singular modular bus.

“So we have modular slices that use a propulsion stage, lander stage, communications stage, science payload stage, bus housekeeping stage and more,” Worden told me.

“In the past many others tried to build a ‘one size fits all’ modular bus. But it turns out that one size does NOT fit all needs.”

“So we took a page from how you build desktop computers.”

“We put in different modules that you can expand or subtract much more easily without changing the whole fundamental architecture or design.”

“So assuming this works well, I think you will see a lot more missions. And that makes it really exciting as our first mission.”

And the Ames modular bus has definitely sparked entrepreneurial interest.

“The bus is already an approach being used by at least one of the Google Lunar X-Prize competitors! The Moon Express team has looked at it a lot to transition that capability to them,” Worden explained.

How about future NASA missions?

“The LADEE bus is also a key part of several of our Ames proposals for future planetary missions,” Worden replied.

“The original design concept about seven years ago was for a small lunar lander. The lander propulsion would likely be a solid fueled stage.”

“Ultimately, NASA decided to go with the orbiter instead. And that showed the strength of the modular bus design – that it was very easy to change it from a lunar lander to the LADEE mission orbiter studying the lunar exosphere.”

I asked if it could deploy a small rover too?

“Yes- a small, micro rover is possible, perhaps 10 to 20 inches in size. And you could pack a lot of science on the small rover using today’s technology!

The Modular Common Spacecraft Bus lander configuration in a hover test in 2008. The lander could be used to deploy micro-rovers. Credit: NASA
The Modular Common Spacecraft Bus lander configuration in a hover test in 2008. The lander could be used to deploy micro-rovers. Credit: NASA

Thus there are numerous exploration possibilities – all dependent on the Federal budget for NASA in this extremely difficult fiscal environment.

NASA Ames had “built parts and spacecraft components and science instruments before, but not a spacecraft in the entirety and in house,” Worden told Universe Today.

For example, a few years back Ames built the LCROSS lunar impacting spacecraft that smashed into the Moon’s south pole and discovered a treasure trove of water ice.

LCROSS piggybacked as a secondary science mission payload onto NASA’ s Lunar Reconnaisannce Orbiter (LRO) when the duo launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop an Atlas V rocket.

NASA Ames has now taken the next step – having designed and built the whole LADEE spacecraft from beginning to end.

“This is our first real baby. It’s very exciting,” beamed Worden.

“LADEE is a pretty phenomenal mission.”

They say “Virginia is for Lovers’

Well coming this Friday, “Virginia is for Space Lovers too!”

Chris Angulo, LADEE Program Engineering manager of Orbital Sciences, and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inspect the 4th and 5th stages of maiden Minotaur V rocket propelling NASA’s LADEE spacecraft to the Moon on Sept. 6 from NASA Wallops in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Chris Angulo, LADEE Program Engineering manager of Orbital Sciences, and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inspect the 4th and 5th stages of maiden Minotaur V rocket propelling NASA’s LADEE spacecraft to the Moon on Sept. 6 from NASA Wallops in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And remember that NASA has a 2nd historic launch from Wallops slated for Sep. 17 – with blastoff of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo carrier bound for its 1st flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

Be sure to watch for my continuing LADEE and Antares mission reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

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

Sep 5/6/16/17: “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 9: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Close Up Side view of NASA Ames built LCROSS lunar impactor. NASA Ames LADEE orbiter is equipped with the UVS science instrument  based on LCROSS heritage.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Close Up Side view of NASA Ames built LCROSS lunar impactor. NASA Ames LADEE orbiter is equipped with the UVS science instrument based on LCROSS heritage. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

LADEE Lunar Probe Unveiled at NASA’s Wallops Launch Site in Virginia

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory has arrived at the launch site on the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island and is now in the midst of weeks of performance testing to ensure it is ready for liftoff in early September.

The LADEE lunar orbiting probe will be the first planetary science mission ever launched from NASA Wallops and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). It will soar to space atop a solid fueled Minotaur V rocket on its maiden flight.

LADEE will blaze a brilliant trail to the Moon during a spectacular nighttime blastoff slated for Sept. 6, 2013 at 11:27 PM from Launch Pad 0B.

LADEE_1

LADEE is equipped with three science instruments to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

“LADEE will investigate the moons tenuous exosphere, trace outgases like the sodium halo and lofted dust at the terminator,” said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA HQ, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

“The spacecraft has a mass spectrometer to identify the gases, a physical dust detector and an imager to look at scattered light from the dust. These processes also occur at asteroids.”

“And it will also test a laser communications system that is a technology demonstrator for future planetary science missions. It communicates at 650 megabits per second,” Green explained to me.

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

The LADEE spacecraft awaits spin balance testing, conducted to ensure stability during flight, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  LADEE is slated to liftoff from Wallops  on Sep. 5, 2013  July 10.  Credit:  NASA/Patrick Black
The LADEE spacecraft awaits spin balance testing, conducted to ensure stability during flight, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. LADEE is slated to liftoff from Wallops on Sept. 6, 2013. Credit: NASA/Patrick Black

The spacecraft was then shipped cross country by a dedicated truck inside a specially-designed shipping container – blanketed with protective nitrogen – which insulated the spacecraft from temperature, moisture, bumps in the road and more than a few crazy drivers.

The first leg of LADEE’s trip to the Moon took 5 days. The trans lunar leg will take 30 days.

It’s standard practice that whenever space probes are moved by ground transportation that they are accompanied by a caravan that includes a lead scout vehicle to ensure safe road conditions and followed by engineers monitoring the health and environmental storage conditions.

Technicians are now engaged in a lengthy series of performance tests to confirm that LADEE was not damaged during the road trip and that all spacecraft systems are functioning properly.

“One important preparation about to begin is spin-balancing LADEE,” says Butler Hine, LADEE Project Manager. “During this procedure, the spacecraft is mounted to a spin table and rotated at a high-speed to make sure it is perfectly balanced for launch.”

After all spacecraft systems pass the performance tests, LADEE will be fueled, encapsulated and moved to the Wallops Island launch pad later this summer for mating with the five stage Minotaur V booster stack.

“I’m excited about the night launch because people up and down the Atlantic seacoast will be able to see it,” Green told me.

Ken Kremer

LADEE Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Looking up the Flame Trench –
LADEE Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. The Antares rocket Pad 0A for missions to the ISS is in the foreground.  Suborbital rockets blast off just behind the Pad 0A water tower. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that will soon launch NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. The Antares rocket Pad 0A for missions to the ISS is in the foreground. Suborbital rockets blast off just behind the Pad 0A water tower. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that will soon launch NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com