Goals: The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was designed to study the Moon's thin exosphere and the lunar dust environment. Studying the Moon's exosphere will help scientists understand other planetary bodies with exospheres too, like Mercury and some of Jupiter's bigger moons.The mission tested several new technologies, including a modular spacecraft design and demonstrate two-way high rate laser communication for the first time from the Moon.
Accomplishments: During an extended mission, LADEE gathered detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere. Scientists hope to use the data to address a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow seen above the lunar horizon during several Apollo missions?
LADEE also succeeded in key engineering tests. The mission proved the effectiveness of the new modular common spacecraft bus, or body, an innovation which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development. It also hosted NASA's first dedicated system for two-way communication using laser instead of radio waves. The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles from the moon to the Earth at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits-per-second (Mbps). In addition, an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps was transmitted from the ground.
LADEE's final first before its planned impact on the lunar surface was completing more than 100 orbits at extremely low altitudes.