Everyone’s favorite space agency and long-time AddThis user NASA will be launching a probe to the moon tonight (assuming everything goes as planned) to test out some great new technologies, and learn about our closest celestial neighbor.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE (pronounced “laddy”), will research the tenuous lunar atmosphere and the dust suspended in it. It will carry two spectrometers–––special cameras that can tell what chemicals are in the lunar atmosphere–––and a dust collector to see if there’s enough hanging in the thin atmosphere to explain some things that Apollo astronauts saw during sunrise while orbiting the moon.
But what really sets the LADEE mission apart from other missions is the new technology it will be demonstrating.
1. The Launch Vehicle
LADEE will be launched on board a Minotaur V built by Orbital Sciences and will be the first craft launched with this system. It’s a Peacekeeper ICBM modified to have five solid rocket stages so that it can launch payloads up to 1100 pounds to geosynchronous orbits or up to 750 pounds to the Moon. LADEE is also the first deep space mission to be launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
2. The Spacecraft
The design for LADEE uses a new method of designing spacecraft called the Modular Common Spacecraft bus. This design uses common parts rather than custom-built components which will help to reduce the cost of future missions. Parts used in the LADEE mission could be used for other orbiters, landers, or even missions that visit near-Earth asteroids.
3. The Communications
This mission will also demonstrate a huge advance in deep space communications technologies. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration will use an infrared laser and 4” telescope to transmit data from the moon at 600 Mbps and receive data at 20 Mbps. Compared to the S band radio transmissions they currently use it’s about 4000x faster This will allow transmission of 3D high definition video, all while being smaller, lighter, easier to design, and having lower power requirements than radio-based systems.
Watch the Skies Tonight!
Since LADEE will be launched from the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, most the area surrounding Washington should be able to see the launch from 60-120 seconds after liftoff. So keep an eye in the eastern sky this Friday at 11:27PM to see LADEE lift off. Or watch it on NASA TV. We don’t mind if you use the share button to let your friends know… ;)