LADEE lunar probe unveiled at NASA's wallops launch site in Virginia

Jul 15, 2013 by Ken Kremer, Universe Today
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. 5, 2013. Credit: NASA/Patrick Black

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 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. 5, 2013 at 11:27 PM from Launch Pad 0B.

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

"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 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 system that is a technology demonstrator for future planetary . It communicates at 650 megabits per second," Green explained to me.

Credit: NASA

The couch sized 844 pound (383 kg) 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 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 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.

Explore further: Packing for Mars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LADEE closer to exploration of lunar environment

Apr 10, 2012

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has received its integrated propulsion system that will enable the spacecraft to reach the moon. Achieving this milestone means the LADEE observatory is one step ...

Apollo's lunar dust data being restored

Dec 06, 2012

Forty years after the last Apollo spacecraft launched, the science from those missions continues to shape our view of the moon. In one of the latest developments, readings from the Apollo 14 and 15 dust detectors ...

Recommended for you

Packing for Mars

41 minutes ago

Like surgeons in an operating room, the technicians work gowned and masked in ESA's ultraclean microbiology laboratory, ensuring a high-tech sensor will not contaminate the Red Planet with terrestrial microbes.

Historical comet-landing site is looking for a name

2 hours ago

The Rosetta mission reaches a defining moment on Wednesday November 12, when its lander, Philae, is released. After about seven hours of descent, Philae will arrive on the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ...

Image: Siding Spring grazes Mars

3 hours ago

This excellent view of Mars seen together with Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring was captured by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA, on 19 October 2014 on the morning that the enigmatic object made the closest-known ...

China to send orbiter to moon and back

6 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

16 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GSwift7
not rated yet Jul 15, 2013
blastoff slated for Sept. 5, 2013 at 11:27 PM

I'm excited about the night launch because people up and down the Atlantic seacoast will be able to see it


I wonder how far away? I'm in South Carolina, so I imagine I'm too far off, even if the sky is clear. If it is visible, that would be something cool to wake the boy up for.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2013
"I wonder how far away?"

You might have a chance GSwift, based on this visibility chart of the April 17, 2013 launch of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket: http://d1jqu7g1y7...unch.jpg

I don't know the precise trajectory of the Minotaur booster over the Atlantic, but the above linked graphic may provide a clue as to visibility.
yyz
not rated yet Jul 15, 2013
double post
GSwift7
not rated yet Jul 16, 2013
That's cool, thanks for that.

I think I would need to be at an elevated location with a clear view, based on that graphic. I'm right at the edge of the viewable area, which means it's unlikely I'd spot it. I'll set a reminder on my phone and try though.