Space

April 4, 2014

NASA satellite to continue gathering data up to planned lunar impact

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft is gradually lowering its orbital altitude to continue making science observations prior to its planned impact on the moon’s surface on or before April 21.

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., are maneuvering the spacecraft to fly approximately 1 to 2 miles (2 to 3 kilometers) above the lunar surface to gather science measurements at the lowest altitude possible.

A final maneuver will ensure LADEE’s trajectory will impact the far side of the moon, which is not in view of Earth or near any previous lunar mission landings. Ground controllers have little room for error with LADEE’s navigation system, and at these low orbital altitudes, a small error could mean the difference between continuing to orbit above the lunar surface and impacting it. Because of this, the team does not intend to target a specific impact location on the moon’s surface.

“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.”

Until mid-April, ground controllers will continue to fire the LADEE altitude control thrusters once a week to keep the observatory in its target orbit. On April 11, LADEE will perform its final orbital maintenance maneuver before the total lunar eclipse on April 15, when Earth’s shadow passes over the Moon. This eclipse, which will last approximately four hours, exposes the spacecraft to conditions at the limits of what it was designed to withstand.

“If LADEE survives the eclipse, we will have nearly a week of additional science at low altitudes before impact,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames. “For a short mission like LADEE, even a few days count for a lot – this is a very exciting time in the mission.”

After the eclipse, ground controllers will determine how well the spacecraft is functioning. If it is healthy, LADEE will continue to acquire and transmit science data, as longs as its altitude and contact with ground controllers allow.

“We’re very eager to see how LADEE handles the prolonged exposure to the intense cold of this eclipse, and we’ve used flight data to predict that most of the spacecraft should be fine,” said Hine. “However, the eclipse will really put the spacecraft design through an extreme test, especially the propulsion system.”

Launched in September 2013, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., the vending-machine size spacecraft has been orbiting the moon since Oct. 6. On Nov. 10, LADEE began gathering science data, and on Nov. 20, the spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon’s equator. LADEE has been in extended mission operations following a highly successful 100-day primary science phase.

“Because the LADEE team has flawlessly performed every maintenance maneuver, they’ve been able to keep the spacecraft flying in its proper orbit and have enabled this amazing mission extension and science to continue up until the very end,” said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

LADEE’s three science payload instruments have been working to unravel the mysteries of the moon’s atmosphere, acquiring more than 700,000 measurements. In its previous orbit, LADEE’s closest approach to the lunar surface was between 12.5 and 31 miles (20 and 50 kilometers), and its farthest was between 47 and 93 miles (75 and 150 kilometers) – a unique position that allows the spacecraft to frequently pass from lunar day to lunar night every two hours. This vantage provides data on the full range of changes and processes occurring within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere.

Scientists hope this data will help answer a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow detected during several Apollo missions above the lunar horizon? LADEE also is gathering detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere. A thorough understanding of these characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission. Ames manages the overall mission and serves as a base for mission operations and real-time control of the probe. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., catalogues and distributes data to a science team located across the country and manages the science instruments. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines September 15, 2014

News: Navy identifies pilot presumed dead in crash - A Navy fighter pilot presumed dead after two fighter jets crashed in the far western Pacific Ocean has been identified.   Business: Boeing eyes 737-700 solution for new JSTARS - Boeing is officially planning a variant of its 737-700 commercial jetliner as a competitor for the Air Force’s...
 
 

News Briefs September 15, 2014

Australia contributing planes for anti-IS campaign Australia is preparing to contribute 600 troops and up to 10 military aircraft to the increasingly aggressive campaign against the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sept. 14. Abbott said Australia was responding to a formal request from the United States for specific...
 
 
Courtesy graphic

Lockheed Martin conducts flight tests of aircraft laser turret for DARPA

AFRL photograph The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control turret that Lockheed Martin is developing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory has completed initial flight testing. T...
 

 

Lockheed Martin advances live, virtual, constructive training in flight test

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jvXmOW8L3mU Lockheed Martin successfully tested a new solution for integrated live, virtual and constructive training during a flight demonstration at the company’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas. During the flight test, a pilot flying in a live F-16 engaged in a synthetic training exercise with a pilot flying as wing...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover arrives at Martian mountain

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination. “Curiosity n...
 
 

Raytheon begins full rate production on TALON Laser Guided Rockets

Under a $117 million contract awarded to Raytheon, Raytheon Missile Systems has begun production of the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. In 2013, the Armed Forces General Headquarters of the United Arab Emirates awarded Tawazun a contract to procure the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. “Full rate production of the TALON LGR is a significant milestone for...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>