NASA’s LADEE probe has reached Lunar orbit after a month-long journey. It’ll soon begin probing the moon’s thin atmosphere and lunar dust.
The moon is really cool, but it seems like we never get to play with it anymore. NASA is going to change that, because they have a new probe that just entered Lunar orbit. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is going to take samples of lunar dust and the thin (virtually non-existent) atmosphere around our largest natural satellite in the coming future.
The probe began its journey a month ago by performing three orbits around earth, each one larger than the last. On the final orbit, the probe performed a prograde burn which propelled it out of earth’s orbit and towards the moon. It coasted for a long time after that, but once close enough to the moon to be captured by it’s gravity well, it performed a retrograde burn. That happened Sunday (Oct. 6), and allowed the probe to settle comfortably into lunar orbit.
At this point, the probe needs to perform two more burns, each one intended to bring it into a closer orbit, with the final goal of being at an altitude of 250km above the moon’s surface. After this, the probe begins its checkout phase where instruments, including a laser-based communications system for sending large amounts of data back from the probe, will be tested. Finally, after all this has been completed, the probe will begin its 100 day science mission.
One goal of the mission will be to discover the origins of the streamers of light that Apollo astronauts witnessed before the sunrise on the moon’s horizon.
The Apollo astronauts were too busy being amazing to figure out what the streamers were.
While most of the US government is shut down because they can’t get along with each other and need a time-out, the $280 million NASA mission won’t be affected because it is in a critical phase. The furlough of the US government has removed 18,000 NASA employees from their workplace, but essential personnel overseeing the operation of spacecraft like the probe are still on staff.