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NASA`s LADEE lunar exploration mission gets extension

By Salome Phelamei | Last Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 21:09

Zee Media Bureau/Salome Phelamei

Washington: The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will get more time to explore the Moon than primitively planned after getting approval for a 28-day extension from the US space agency, NASA.

The LADEE spacecraft is expected to impact the Moon on or about April 14, 2014.

The extension enables the satellite to collect an additional lunar cycle worth of very low-altitude data, which will help scientists unravel the mysteries of the lunar atmosphere.
“The launch vehicle performance and orbit capture burns using LADEE`s on-board engines were extremely accurate, so the spacecraft had significant propellant remaining to enable extra science,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “This extension represents a tremendous increase in the amount of science data returned from the mission.”

The small, car-sized spacecraft was launched from NASA`s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013, on a Minotaur V carrier rocket. It compassed the lunar orbit on October 6, 2013, and since then it has been orbiting the Moon.

On November 10, LADEE began gathering scientific data and on November 20, the spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon`s equator at an altitude of 8 to 37 miles above the surface.

NASA`s robotic explorer, which carries three scientific instruments and a technology will address three major science goals:
- Determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the tenuous lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity;

- Find out if the Apollo astronaut sightings of mysterious luminosity above the surface were sodium glow or dust when they landed on the moon in 1960s and;

- Document the dust impactor environment (size-frequency) to help guide design engineering for the outpost and also future robotic missions.

“The science team has already established a baseline of data for the tenuous lunar atmosphere, or exosphere, and dust impacts,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames. “One cool thing about this extension is that we plan to fly LADEE at only a few kilometers above the lunar surface. This will be much lower than we`ve been before.”

LADEE is the first spacecraft ever designed, integrated, built, and tested by NASA`s Ames Research Center. LADEE mission makes use of the Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus that has the ability to perform on various kinds of missions - including voyages to the Moon and Near Earth Objects - with different modules or applicable systems. The total mass of the spacecraft is 383 kg (844 lb).

First Published: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 21:09
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