100 days of science for LADEE

The NASA probe launched into orbit around the Moon has completed the commissioning phase and its scientific instruments have passed the preliminary checks.



The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched September 6, 2013, enter the phase of scientific research. The NASA probe is carrying three instruments designed to gather detailed information on the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere (100,000 times less dense than Earth’s). A thorough knowledge of the characteristics of our satellite could help researchers to better understand other bodies in the solar system: from Mercury and large asteroids, to the moons of the outer planets.

The implementation of the mission took almost a month’s time; period in which the spacecraft remained in orbit precaution at high altitudes. The scientific instruments were turned on, tested and calibrated. They all enjoyed good health and those of Robert Caffrey, payload mission manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the sensitivity of the instruments is very high, as indeed the expectation on the scientific mission.

Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), built to collect and analyze dust particles in the thin lunar atmosphere of the satellite is fully operational. Since it started his recordings Oct. 16, it observed dozens of dust particles in the range of impacts per minute. Preliminary analysis suggests that the particle sizes are much smaller than a micrometer. The Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), designed to probe the composition of the moon, behaved as expected and has conducted a series of useful pointings for its calibration. The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS), which will measure the changes in the lunar atmosphere on the different lunar orbits, it works normally, and the mass spectrometer is already exposed to the atmosphere of the moon.



In addition to the three scientific instruments, the probe includes LADEE the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) payload. It can be said that LLCD already entered into history, since it has used for the first time a laser beam to transmit data between the Moon and the Earth. He covered nearly 385,000 kilometers that separate our natural satellite from the planet that we live with a download speed record of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). Also significant was the upload speed error-free data: 20 megabits per second Mbps transmitted from the ground station in New Mexico.

LLCD is the first system for bidirectional communication with a laser instead of radio waves. If this technology will surpass the test, it could be the beginning of a new era for space communications. “The goal of LLCD is to validate and enhance this kind of technology, so that future missions can rely on,” said Don Cornwell, project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Now that the scientific mission is operational, LADEE has lowered its orbit to get closer to the lunar surface and began scientific mission scheduled for a period of 100 days. We can only wish it good work.

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