Washington: The first of the two probes built by the University of California, Berkeley, and part of NASA’s five-satellite THEMIS mission settled into a stable orbit around the Moon’s equator on June 27, 2011.
If everything go as planned, the second probe will assume a similar lunar orbit, though in the opposite direction, on Sunday - July 17, 2011.
The two spacecraft that comprise the ARTEMIS mission will immediately begin the first observations ever conducted by a pair of satellites of the lunar surface, its magnetic field and the surrounding magnetic environment.
“With two spacecraft orbiting in opposite directions, we can acquire a full 3-D view of the structure of the magnetic fields near the Moon and on the lunar surface,” said Vassilis Angelopoulos, principal investigator for the THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) missions.
“ARTEMIS will be doing totally new science, as well as reusing existing spacecraft to save a lot of taxpayer money,” he said.
“These are the most fully equipped spacecraft that have ever gone to the Moon,” added David Sibeck, THEMIS and ARTEMIS project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland.
“For the first time we’re getting a unique, two-point perspective of the Moon from two spacecraft, and that will be a major component of our overall lunar research program.”
The two ARTEMIS probes will join NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009 taking high-resolution photographs and looking for signs of water ice.