Washington: NASA`s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is set to gather detailed data about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.
LADEE now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon`s surface.
Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said that a thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.
Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.
LADEE was launched Sept. 6 on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V, an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. LADEE is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at Ames. It also was the first probe launched beyond Earth orbit from NASA`s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.