Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer


Is everyone prepared for the historic launch of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer this week? This will be the first of TEN launches in September! Busy rocket season.

This historic robotic mission to the moon will mark the very first lunar blast-off from a place that is not-Cape-Canaveral. It will also clear up many of the Moon Mysteries we humans have wondered about since the Apollo program.

NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is very excited to host the launch of LADEE (pronounced Laa-dee, as opposed to "lady") on a USAF Minotaur V. NASA Ames is holding an event at their parade grounds, and 8,000 people have purchased tickets! NASA TV will also carry pre-launch activities, so find a place to watch: 

NASA LADEE Lunar Launch
Friday, September 6th
NASA TV Coverage Begins 6:30pm PT / 9:30pm ET
LAUNCH WINDOW 11:27-11:31pm ET

Click to embiggen Launch Visibility map

Designed and built at NASA Ames, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the composition, density and variability of the thin (but glowing!) lunar atmosphere.

LADEE will  study conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust, and also test new laser communications technology that could potentially bring broadband speeds to planetary space missions!

The LADEE 3-phase animation, by Dana Berry at NASA Ames, first shows the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) instrument, which operates by detecting ions generated when dust particles impact at high speeds. Data will be used to calculate the mass, density and electrical charge of lunar dust.  Phase 2 depicts orbital flight path variations, and phase 3 shows light from the sun scattering through the lunar atmosphere.

Why are such explorations important?

Interestingly, our Moon may be the most common type of atmosphere in the solar system -- perhaps in most solar systems. Known as a "surface boundary exosphere," a very similar type surrounds Mercury, the moons of our gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, all the largest asteroids observed, and even minor celestial bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. 

Given that we have an SBE so close, we really ought to be exploring it!  In the future, the data may help probes land on Jovian moons!

Follow the NASA LADEE action on Twitter, and of course, I will be live-tweet all the action from the Pillownaut Twitter account, too.