NASA's Unmanned Lunar Spacecraft LADEE Successfully Orbits the Moon
NASA's small car sized robotic explorer LADEE successfully made its entry into the lunar orbit during the early hours of Sunday morning to kick start its six-month mission to mine hidden clues of the lunar atmosphere and also demonstrate the next generation laser communication system.
The unmanned spacecraft entered the lunar orbit and fired its main engine for the expected duration of four minutes. It fired its liquid fueled engine at 10.57 GMT and this allowed the spacecraft to be captured by the moon's gravity in a high altitude orbit over the equator, reports Clevelandleader.com.
"The orbit around the moon is retrograde, meaning opposite the lunar rotation, and also around the equator," said Greg Delroy, LADEE's deputy project scientist at Ames. "A lot of the lunar science missions have done a polar orbit, but because of the kind of science we're after, we very much want to be around the equator."
The $280 million LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) mission was launched on September 6, 2013, from the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, at 11.27 p.m. EDT. The mission of this robotic spacecraft is to record the elevated lunar dust of the moon surface.
LADEE has to pierce into a highly elliptical retrograde orbit and take the couch sized spacecraft around the moon every 24 hours. The orbit burns are dated for October 9 and October 12 and this will lower the altitude of LADEE and it will finally land 155 miles above the moon's equator. On reaching this height, ground mission team members will commission three of the probe's instruments, position the aperture cover from the sensors and turn on the laser communication of the spacecraft for a 30 day demonstration of high speed optical communication.
Later data packets will be exchanged via the Lunar Laser communication Demonstration that will be linked to ground stations. The data will be exchanged at speeds that cannot be attained with radio communication systems.
"Once the two systems are locked and acquired, then we can send tens of megabits of data per second from the Earth up to the moon, and similarly we can send hundreds of megabits per second from the moon on LADEE down to the Earth," said Don Cornwell, the laser communication demonstration mission manager from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The data LADEE offers will help scientists answer questions pertaining to whether the lunar dust is electrically charged by sunlight or is it responsible for the pre sunrise glow above the lunar horizon that was captured by Apollo missions.
LADEE will wrap up its mission in 2014 and prepare itself for a suicidal entry into the Earth's atmosphere.