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LADEE Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Minotaur V
Launch Site: Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, United States
NASA Center: Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center
Spacecraft Mass: 383 kg
Spacecraft Power: 295 W
Project Manager: Butler P. Hine, III, Ames Research Center
Total Cost: Total mission cost is $263 million.
National Space Science Data Center,

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is designed to characterize the tenuous lunar atmosphere and dust environment from orbit.

The scientific objectives of the mission are to:

  • Determine the composition of the lunar atmosphere and the processes that control its distribution and variability.
  • Characterize the lunar exospheric dust environment.

One of the motivations for this mission is to determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the fragile lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by any future human activities. We are also trying to solve a mystery from the last time humans were on the Moon, we would like to determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at 10s of km above the surface were caused by sodium glow or dust.

The science orbit will last 100 days. The orbiter is carrying three science instruments. The neutral mass spectrometer (NMS) will directly measure the concentration of different atmospheric species. The ultraviolet/visible spectrometer (UVS) will measure both the atmosphere and dust. The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) will directly measure dust particles. The total science payload mass is 50 kg.

There is also a technology demonstration, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, designed to demonstrate a new method of sending and receiving data from missions using lasers rather than radio signals. The lasercom from Earth to lunar orbit will have a down link data rate of 622 Mb/s, compared to our current methods, which only get about 100 Mb/s.

The mission will detect and constrain the abundances of atmospheric species expected to be prevalent at orbital altitudes between 20 and 150 km. It will help us understand the sources of these components, for example, whether they are due to the solar wind and its interactions with the lunar surface, or release from the soil, or radiogenic sources. It will also seek to determine the density, time variability and spatial distribution of possible lofted lunar dust, to help us understand the physical mechanisms by which such lofting might occur, and what role the interactions with the Sun plays in these processes.

LADEE will spend about 2.5 months reaching the Moon, getting into its science orbit, and checking out systems before its 100 day science mission starts. The nominal science orbit will be a near-circular retrograde (clockwise) equatorial orbit with a period of 113 minutes at about 50 km above the surface. The periselene (closest approach) will be over the sunrise terminator. After the science mission is complete the orbiter will impact the lunar surface.

Moon - NASA's Lunar Portal
Key Dates
6 Sep 2013:  Launch (11:27 p.m. EDT)
6 Oct 2013:  Lunar Orbit Insertion
10 Nov 2013:  Science Mission Begins
17 Apr 2014:  Lunar Impact
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
LADEE Facts LADEE data will help determine the impact of increased human activity on the Moon's thin exosphere.

An exosphere is an atmosphere that is so thin and tenuous that molecules don't collide with each other.

Because the Moon's atmosphere is so thin, disturbances could quickly swamp its natural composition.

LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface. The spacecraft's orbit naturally decayed following the mission's final low-altitude science phase.

At the time of impact, LADEE was traveling at a speed of 3,600 miles per hour - about three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet.
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"Viewing the moon when humans were walking on it -- awesome! -- I wish kids could do that today." Read More...
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Last Updated: 19 Apr 2014