On Friday, September 6, 2013, NASA will launch a rocket to the Moon from its Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch will send a probe to the Moon in an attempt to answer prevailing questions about our closest neighbor in space.
The probe, which will ride atop the first launch of a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, is the small car-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). While not landing on the surface, LADEE is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.
“The moon’s tenuous atmosphere may be more common in the solar system than we thought,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “Further understanding of the moon’s atmosphere may also help us better understand our diverse solar system and its evolution.”
In addition to being the first launch of the Minotaur V rocket, this is also the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the agency’s Virginia Space Coast launch facility and will allow for the testing of a new high-data-rate laser communication system.
LADEE was built using an Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture, a general purpose spacecraft design that allows NASA to develop, assemble and test multiple modules at the same time. The LADEE bus structure is made of a lightweight carbon composite with a mass of 547.2 pounds — 844.4 pounds when fully fueled.
“This mission will put the common bus design to the test,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden. “This same common bus can be used on future missions to explore other destinations, including voyages to orbit and land on the moon, low-Earth orbit, and near-Earth objects.”
The Minotaur V rocket is actually an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The moon mission launch of LADEE is currently scheduled for 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.