Threat Tracking USAF Satellite Launching Nighttime Aug 25 on Cape Debut of Retired ICBM Minotaur Rocket: Watch Live

An Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 USAF surveillance satellite is slated for its maiden liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida at 11:15 p.m. EDT on August 25, 2017 on a retired ICBM. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Patrick AFB

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL — A gap filling space surveillance satellite that will track orbiting threats for the U.S. Air Force is set for an thrilling nighttime blastoff Friday, Aug. 25 on the maiden mission of the Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral that’s powered by a retired Cold War-era ICBM missile – once armed with nuclear warheads.

The ORS-5 satellite will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe as well as space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator.

The Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 tracking satellite for the USAF Operationally Responsive Space Office is targeting liftoff just before midnight Friday at 11:15 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We are go for launch of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV rocket Friday night,” Orbital ATK confirmed.

The ORS-5 mission, which stands for Operationally Responsive Space-5, marks the first launch of a Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral and the first use of SLC-46 since 1999.

The Minotaur IV is a five stage rocket comprised of three stages of a decommissioned Cold War-era Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that has been modified to add two additional Orbital ATK Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the upper stages.

Being a night launch and the first of its kind will surely make for a spectacular sky show.

Plus if you want to see how the world could potentially end in nuclear catastrophy, come watch the near midnight launch of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket that’s a retired Peacekeeper ICBM once armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the Russians but now carrying the USAF ORS-5 surveillance satellite instead.

Its well worth your time if you can watch the Minotaur launch with your own eyeballs. It can be easily viewed from numerous local area beaches, parks, restaurants and more.

Minotaur IV rocket stands at pad 46 with the USAF ORS-5 surveillance satellite for its first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida on August 25, 2017. Credit: Orbital ATK

Furthermore, its been in a super busy time at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Because, if all goes well Friday’s midnight launch will be the third in just 11 days – and the second in a week!

A ULA Atlas V launched the NASA TDRS-M science relay satellite last Friday, Aug 18. And a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the Dragon CRS-12 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, Aug. 14.

You can watch the launch live via the Orbital ATK website here: www.orbitalatk.com

The live Orbital ATK broadcast will begin approximately 20 minutes before the launch window opens.

The webcast will be hosted by former CNN space reporter John Zarrella.

The launch window opens at 11:15 p.m. EDT August 25. It extends for four hours until 3:15 a.m. EDT August 26.

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Saturday, Aug. 26. The launch window remains the same from 11:15 p.m. EDT August 26 to 3:15 a.m. EDT August 27.

The weather looks somewhat iffy at this time with only a 60% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Aug. 25 are for thick clouds and cumulus clouds.

The weather odds deteriorate to only 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Aug. 26. The primary concerns on Aug. 26 are for thick clouds, cumulus clouds and lightning.


The ORS-5 or SensorSat satellite will provide the US military with space-based surveillance and tracking of other satellites both friend and foe and space debris in geosynchronous orbit 22,236 miles above the equator. Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory

ORS-5 is like a telescope wrapped in a satellite that will aim up to seek threats from LEO to GEO.

ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is designed to scan for other satellites and debris to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of objects in geosynchronous orbit for a minimum of three years and possibly longer if its on boards sensor and satellite systems continue functioning in a useful and productive manner.

“The delivery and upcoming launch of ORS-5 marks a significant milestone in fulfilling our commitment to the space situational awareness mission and U.S. Strategic Command,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “It’s an important asset for the warfighter and will be employed for at least three years.”

The ORS-5 satellite has a payload mass of 140 kg. It will be launched into a low inclination equatorial orbit of 600 km x 600 km (373 mi x 373 mi) at zero degrees.

“This will be the largest low-Earth orbit inclination plane change in history – 28.5 degrees latitude to equatorial orbit,” says Orbital ATK.

“The Minotaur IV 4th stage will put ORS-5 into initial orbit & the payload insertion stage will make a hard left to get to equatorial orbit.”

The Cape Canaveral AFB launch site for this Minotaur IV was chosen, rather than NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia based on the final orbit required for ORS-5, Orbital ATK told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.

The Minotaur IV is not powerful enough to deliver ORS-5 to the desired orbit from Wallops.

ORS-5 was designed and built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory facility in Lexington, Massachusetts at a cost of $49 million.

In July 2015 the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office awarded Orbital ATK a $23.6 million contract to launch the ORS-5 SensorSat on the Minotaur IV launch vehicle.

ORS-5/SensorSat was processed for launch and encapsulation inside the 2.3 meter diameter payload fairing at Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida.

The Minotaur IV is quite similar to Orbital ATK’s Minotaur V launch vehicle which successfully propelled NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter to the Moon for NASA during a night launch from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in Sept. 2013.

Launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Friday night Sept. 6, 2013 at 11:27 p.m. EDT on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Minotaur V also utilizes the first three stages of the decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM missile.

Overall the ORS-5 launch will be the 26th blastoff in Orbital ATK’s Minotaur family of launch vehicles which enjoy a 100% success rate to date.

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 U.S. Air Force has a stockpile of about 180 surplus Peacekeeper motors, but not all are launch capable, the USAF told Universe Today at a prelaunch media briefing.

The USAF furnishes the Peacekeeper motors to Orbital ATK after first refurbishing the booster stages at Vandenberg AFB, Ca.

Orbital ATK then upgrades the stages by adding their own “flight-proven avionics, structures, software and other components that are common among Orbital ATK’s space launch vehicles” and integrating the firms Orion 38 solid rocket motors for the two upper stages.

“A combined government and contractor team of mission partners executed final ground activities including a Launch Base Compatibility Test to verify satellite integrity after shipment, an intersegment test to verify communication compatibility from the satellite to the on-orbit operations center and the final battery reconditioning for launch, prior to its integration with the Minotaur IV launch vehicle,” says the USAF.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M, CRS-12, and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Minotaur IV ORS-5 Mission Trajectory. Credit: Orbital ATK

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Learn more about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, upcoming Minotaur IV ORS-5 military launch on Aug. 25, recent ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 , SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Aug 25-26: “2017 Total Solar Eclipse, Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M NASA comsat, SpaceX CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Stacking the 4th stage of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket in preparation for the August 25, 2017 ORS-5 launch from Space Launch Complex 46, Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. Credit: Orbital ATK
Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket description. Credit: Orbital ATK/USAF
Minotaur IV ORS-5 mission patch

NASA’s Highly Productive LADEE Dust Explorer Probe Crashes into the Moon as Planned

NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiting dust and atmosphere explorer probe has bitten the dust and crashed into the Moon’s surface exactly as planned following a fabulously successful and groundbreaking science mission that exceeded all expectations.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the far side of the Moon sometime overnight between 12:30-1:22 a.m. EDT, Friday, April 18 (9:30 and 10:22 p.m. PDT, Thursday, April 17) according to a NASA statement.

Running low on fuel and unable to continue any further science observations, the couch sized spacecraft was intentionally plunged into the rugged lunar surface at a spot designed to keep it far away from disturbing any of the historic Apollo manned lunar landing sites or unmanned surveyors on the Moon’s near side.

LADEE_Poster_01

Mission controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center allowed LADEE’s orbit to naturally decay following the conclusion of the probes extended mission in the final low orbit science phase.

The probe was likely smashed violently to smithereens and mostly vaporized from the heat generated upwards of several hundred degrees. Any surviving debris may be buried in shallow crater formed by the impact.

“At the time of impact, LADEE was traveling at a speed of 3,600 miles per hour – about three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames, in a NASA statement.

“There’s nothing gentle about impact at these speeds – it’s just a question of whether LADEE made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris across a flat area. It will be interesting to see what kind of feature LADEE has created.”

The powerful NAC telescopic camera aboard NASA’s still orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will be directed in coming months to try and photograph the impact site after engineers pinpoint the likely crash site.

LRO has already imaged LADEE while both were co-orbiting in different lunar orbits.

This dissolve  animation compares the LRO image (geometrically corrected) of LADEE  captured on Jan 14, 2014 with a computer-generated and labeled image of LADEE .  LRO and LADEE are both NASA science spacecraft currently in orbit around the Moon. Credit:  NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

This dissolve animation compares the LRO image (geometrically corrected) of LADEE captured on Jan 14, 2014 with a computer-generated and labeled image of LADEE . LRO and LADEE are both NASA science spacecraft currently in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

After completing its primary science mission in March, the already ultra low altitude of the lunar orbiting probe was reduced even further so that it was barely skimming just 2 kilometers (1 mile) above the pockmarked lunar surface.

Such a low altitude thus enabled LADEE to gather unprecedented science measurements of the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere and dust particles since the species would be present at a higher concentration.

Lots of fuel is required to maintain LADEE’s orbit due to the uneven nature of the Moon’s global gravity field.

The final engine firing was commanded on April 11 to ensure a far side impact and the safety of all the historic lunar landing sites.

“LADEE also survived the total lunar eclipse on April 14 to 15. This demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to endure low temperatures and a drain on batteries as it, and the moon, passed through Earth’s deep shadow,” said NASA

LADEE was launched on Sept. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops in Virginia on a science mission to investigate the composition and properties of the Moon’s pristine and extremely tenuous atmosphere, or exosphere, and untangle the mysteries of its lofted lunar dust dating back to the Apollo Moon landing era.

All those objectives and more were accomplished during its nearly half year investigating Earth’s nearest neighbor.

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

It entered lunar orbit on Oct. 6, 2013 amidst the ridiculous government shutdown that negatively affected a number of science missions funded across the US federal government.

The science mission duration had initially been planned to last approximately 100 days and finish with a final impact on the Moon on about March 24th.

NASA granted LADEE a month long extension since the residual rocket fuel was more than anticipated due to the expertise of LADEE’s navigation engineers and the precision of the launch atop the Orbital Sciences Minotaur V rocket and orbital insertion.

“It’s bittersweet knowing we have received the final transmission from the LADEE spacecraft after spending years building it in-house at Ames, and then being in constant contact as it circled the moon for the last several months,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames.

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.

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.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing LADEE, Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Mars rover and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Full scale model of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on display at the free visitor center at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Full scale model of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on display at the free visitor center at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Announces ‘Take the Plunge’ Contest – Guess when LADEE Hits the Moon – Soon!

You can enter NASA’s ‘Take the Plunge’ contest and guess LADEE’s impending lunar impact date, expected on or before April 21, 2014. Credit: NASA
Contest entry details below – deadline soon[/caption]

When will LADEE hit the Moon for its looming end of mission finale?

NASA’s resoundingly successful LADEE lunar dust exploring mission is nearly out of gas – and needs your help, now!

With its inevitable doom approaching, NASA needs you to summon your thoughts and is challenging you to participate in a ‘Take the Plunge’ contest – figuratively not literally – and guess LADEE’s impending impact date.

LADEE, which stand for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, will smack violently into the Moon and scatter into zillions of bits and pieces sometime in the next two and a half weeks, on or before about April 21.

But exactly when will it impact the lunar surface? NASA wants to hear your best guess!

The ‘Take the Plunge’ contest was announced by NASA today, April 4, at a media briefing.

For more information about the challenge and how to enter, visit: http://socialforms.nasa.gov/ladee

This dissolve  animation compares the LRO image (geometrically corrected) of LADEE  captured on Jan 14, 2014 with a computer-generated and labeled image of LADEE .  LRO and LADEE are both NASA science spacecraft currently in orbit around the Moon. Credit:  NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
This dissolve animation compares the LRO image (geometrically corrected) of LADEE captured on Jan 14, 2014 with a computer-generated and labeled image of LADEE . LRO and LADEE are both NASA science spacecraft currently in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Between now and its inevitable doom, mission controllers will command LADEE to continue gathering groundbreaking science.

And it will do so at an even lower attitude that it orbits today by firing its orbit maneuvering thrusters tonight and this weekend.

The couch sized probe seeks to eek out every last smidgeon of data about the Moons ultra tenuous dust and atmospheric environment from an ultra low altitude just a few miles (km) above the pockmarked lunar surface.

But because the moon’s gravity field is so uneven, the probes thrusters must be frequently fired to keep it on course and prevent premature crashes.

“The moon’s gravity field is so lumpy, and the terrain is so highly variable with crater ridges and valleys that frequent maneuvers are required or the LADEE spacecraft will impact the moon’s surface,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames.

“Even if we perform all maneuvers perfectly, there’s still a chance LADEE could impact the moon sometime before April 21, which is when we expect LADEE’s orbit to naturally decay after using all the fuel onboard.”

LADEE will fly as low as fly approximately 1 to 2 miles (2 to 3 kilometers) above the surface.

Everyone of all ages is eligible to enter NASA’s “Take the Plunge: LADEE Impact Challenge.”

The submissions deadline is 3 p.m. PDT Friday, April 11.

NASA says that winners post impact. They will receive a commemorative, personalized certificate from the LADEE program via email.

Series of LADEE star tracker images features the lunar terrain.  Credit: NASA Ames
Series of LADEE star tracker images features the lunar terrain. Credit: NASA Ames

Watch for my upcoming story on LADEE’s science accomplishments and what’s planned for her final days.

LADEE was launched on Sept. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops in Virginia on a science mission to investigate the composition and properties of the Moon’s pristine and extremely tenuous atmosphere, or exosphere, and untangle the mysteries of its lofted lunar dust dating back to the Apollo Moon landing era.

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 science mission duration had initially been planned to last approximately 100 days and finish with a final impact on the Moon on about March 24th.

NASA granted LADEE a month long extension since the residual rocket fuel is more than anticipated due to the expertise of LADEE’s navigation engineers and the precision of the launch atop the Orbital Sciences Minotaur V rocket and orbital insertion.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing LADEE, Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Mars rover and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6.

Ken Kremer

Full scale model of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on display at the free visitor center at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Full scale model of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on display at the free visitor center at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s LADEE Probe Starts Science Study of Thin Lunar Atmosphere and Dusty Mystery

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has descended to its planned low altitude orbit and begun capturing science data on its ground breaking mission to study the Moon’s ultra tenuous atmosphere and dust using a spacecraft based on a revolutionary new design aimed at speeding development and cutting costs.

LADEE set sail for Earth’s nearest neighbor during a spectacular night time launch atop the maiden flight of an Air Force Minotaur V rocket on Sept. 6 from NASA’s Wallops Island launch facility on Virginia’s Eastern shore.

The flawless launch thrilled spectators up and down virtually the entire US East coast region and yielded many memorable snapshots.

Following a month long voyage and three and a half long looping orbits of the Earth, LADEE successfully fired its main engine for 4 minutes and 12 seconds on Oct. 6 and successfully entered lunar orbit, Dawn McIntosh, LADEE deputy project manager at NASA Ames Research Center, told Universe Today in an exclusive interview.

A series of engine firings over the past month gradually circularized and lowered LADEE into its final science orbit around our Moon while engineers checked out the spacecraft during the commissioning phase of the mission.

The do or die initial Lunar Orbit Insertion burn (LOI-1) allowed LADEE to be captured into a highly elliptical, equatorial lunar orbit, said McIntosh.

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. 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. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Two additional LOI burns on Oct. 6 and Oct 9 lowered LADEE to an approximately 4 hour orbit with a periapsis altitude of 234 Kilometers (km) and apoapsis altitude of 250 km” McIntosh told me.

The trio of LOI main engine firings used up most of LADEE’s precious on board fuel.

“LADEE launched with 134.5 kilograms (kg) of fuel. Post LOI-3, 80% of our fuel has been consumed,” said McIntosh.

“Additional orbit-lowering maneuvers with the orbital control system (OCS) and reaction control system (RCS) of approximately 40 seconds were used to get LADEE into the science orbit.

The spacecraft finally entered its planned two hour science orbit around the moon’s equator on Nov. 20.

Its flying at an extremely low altitude ranging from merely eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon’s surface.

By circling in this very low altitude equatorial orbit, the washing machine sized probe will make frequent passes crossing from lunar day to lunar night enabling it to precisely measure changes and processes occurring within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere while simultaneously sniffing for uplifted lunar dust in the lunar sky.

The remaining fuel will be used to maintain LADEE’s orbit during the approximately 100 day long science mission. The mission length is dictated by the residual fuel available for thruster firings.

LADEE Science Instrument locations
LADEE Science Instrument locations

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.

“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.

By studying the raised dust, scientists also hope to solve a 40 year old mystery – Why did the Apollo astronauts and early unmanned landers see a glow of rays and streamers at the moon’s horizon stretching high into the lunar sky.

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.”

LADEE_Poster_01

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 arrived at the Moon last month in the midst of the US government shutdown – which negatively impacted a host of other NASA missions. Only a ‘skeleton crew’ was available.

“All burns went super well,” Worden told me. 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.

Now the real science begins for LADEE and the team.

Stay tuned here for continuing LADEE news

Ken Kremer

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

Nov 22-25: “SpaceX launch, MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 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

…………….
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

NASA’s LADEE Lunar Probe Set for Spectacular Science and September Night Launch – Visible to Millions and Millions

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 [/caption]

A spectacular nighttime blastoff blazing a historic trail to the Moon is set to soar in two weeks time when NASA’s LADEE spacecraft lifts off from the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island – from America’s newest spaceport.

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

LADEE’s late night launch will be absolutely spectacular and visible to tens of millions of spectators up and down the US East coast and interior areas stretching into the Midwest- weather permitting.

“I love this mission,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, at a media briefing today, Aug. 22.

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

“With NASA’s prior LRO and GRAIL spacecraft we studied the Moon’s surface and interior. Now with LADEE we study the atmosphere and dust,” said John Grunsfeld.

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 small car sized LADEE lunar orbiter mission will be historic in many ways. It’s the first probe of any kind ever launched to beyond Earth orbit from NASA Wallops, as well as being the first planetary science mission from Wallops.

It also marks the first launch of a five stage rocket and the first launch of a decommissioned Peacekeeper missile from Wallops.

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. Its literally beating sword into ploughshares.

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.

Recently, I had an exclusive tour and photoshoot up close and personal with the upper stages of LADEE’s Minotaur V rocket at Wallops prior to integration at the commercial launch pad – 0B – and will be reporting on that here and in upcoming stories.

4th and 5th stages of the inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch that will propel NASA’s LADEE lunar spacecraft to the Moon on Sep. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4th and 5th stages of the inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch that will propel NASA’s LADEE lunar spacecraft to the Moon on Sep. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“LADEE is equipped with three science instruments to study the atmosphere and dust and a lunar laser technology demonstration,” said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, NASA Headquarters.

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 dad communications with Earth.

“The lunar atmosphere is so thin that the molecules never collide,’ said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist, NASA Headquarters.

“It’s a ‘Surface Boundary Exosphere’ which is actually the most common type of atmosphere in our Solar System.”

Scientists also hope to solve a mystery dating back nearly five decades to the Apollo moon landing era, by determining if electrically charged lunar dust is responsible for the pre-sunrise horizon glow seen by the Apollo astronauts and also by the unmanned Surveyor 7 lander, according to Noble.

LADEE_Poster_01

“This is the first NASA mission with a dedicated laser communications experiment,” said Don Cornwell, mission manager for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
I asked when we could see laser communications implemented on future NASA spacecraft?

“A new laser communications system could possibly be used on the 2020 Mars rover from the surface of Mars,” Grunsfeld told Universe Today.

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 spacecraft is a first of its kind vehicle built from a NASA Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture that can be applied to other missions. The mission cost is approximately $280 million.

The Minotaur V will boost LADEE into a highly elliptical orbit. Then over the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board braking thrusters to achieve lunar orbit.

NASA Ames LADEE Mission – Lunar Orbital Insertion Animation

Video caption: This animation is a representation of lunar orbital insertion for LADEE, which is the path the spacecraft follows when it is captured by the Moon’s gravity and enters lunar orbit. Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry. Note: Animation is silent with no audio/music track included.

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

“It’s limited by the amount of onboard fuel required to maintain orbit,” Doug Voss, launch manager, Wallops, told Universe Today.

“I’m excited about the night launch because people up and down the Atlantic seacoast will be able to see it,” Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA HQ, told me.

And don’t forget that NASA has a 2nd really big launch from Wallops slated for Sep. 17 – with blastoff of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo carrier on their historic 1st mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

I’ll be on site at Wallops for both historic launches on Sep. 6 and 17 – reporting for Universe Today.

We’ll see you in Virginia!

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, 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

Looking up the Flame Trench of the LADEE Minotuar V Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Looking up the Flame Trench of the LADEE Minotaur V Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. 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