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NASA’s LADEE Probe Heads for Moon to Study Lunar Environment

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere & Dust Environment Explorer mission began a 30-day trek to the moon late Friday, successfully blasting off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility inVirginia.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere & Dust Explorer Mission Lifts Off from Virginia atop Orbital Sciences' Minotaur V. Photo Credit/NASA

Flight controllers encountered then quickly addressed a problem with the solar powered spacecraft’s reaction wheels, rapidly spinning devices that point and steady the probe. Within 24 hours of the launch, the reaction wheels were functioning as designed, according to an update from NASA’s LADEE team.

“The reaction wheel issue noted soon after launched was resolved a few hours later,” said Pete Worden, director of NASA’sAmesResearchCenter, which leads the mission development. “The LADEE spacecraft is healthy and communicating with mission operators.”

Ntmosphere & Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft orbitsl the moon in this artist's illustration. Image Credit/NASA

The robotic spacecraft’s $280 million mission is focused on studies of the moon’s tenuous atmosphere, surface environmental conditions, those especially responsible for the mysterious characteristics of the lunar dust. The work will address whether the dust, electrically charged by the sun’s ultraviolet light, was responsible for the strange glow on the horizon noted by NASA’s Apollo astronauts prior to lunar sunrise.

After spiraling toward the moon over the next 30 days, LADEE will maneuver into an equatorial orbit for a 30 day check out.  A 100 day primary science investigation will follow.

The spacecraft also features a laser communications experiment.  Check this link for more: Past communications with distant spacecraft rely on the transmission of radio waves, which are gathered with large dish antennas assembled on several continents across the Earth to assure continuous reception. LADEE will demonstrate the use of more focused laser beams, relying on light pulses to transmit 622 megabits of data per second.

LADEE was boosted toward the moon from Wallops at 11:27 p.m., EDT atop an Orbital Sciences Corp Minotaur V rocket.

It was the inaugural flight of the five stage launch vehicle originally designed and built by the Dulles,Va., based company for the U. S. Air Force from decommissioned Peacekeeper government-supplied missile stages. Orbital combines those stages with commercial motors for the upper two stages to produce a low-cost rocket for launching smaller spacecraft into low-Earth orbit and higher-energy trajectories, like the trans-lunar flight of the LADEE mission.






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