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NASA’s Next Moon Probe: LADEE to Test Laser Communications

The LADEE spacecraft awaits spin balance testing, conducted to ensure stability during flight, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia July 10. Credit: NASA/Patrick Black

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE – is being prepared for its departure to the Moon.

Launch date is slated for September 2013 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va. atop a Minotaur V booster.

LADEE’s mission duration is approximately 160 days – 30 days to travel to the Moon, 30 days for checkout and 100 days for science operations.

What’s the objective of this lunar orbiter?

It will gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

Laser communications

LADEE will also test an advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with the NASA Moon orbiter.

LADEE carries a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of laser light. ESA’s Optical Ground Station on Tenerife will be upgraded with a complementary unit and, together with two U.S. ground terminals, will relay data at unprecedented rates using infrared light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth.

The first laser link-up with LADEE is expected to be attempted four weeks after launch, around mid-October.

By Leonard David


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