LADEE, or the Lunar Atmospher and Dust Environment Explorer, is set to orbit the moon, gathering highly detailed intel on the environmental and geological nature of the moon. Now that the last of three vital instruments have been installed, the craft is now a fully fledged, high precision space observatory, according to project manager Butler Hine.
Next up, LADEE will undergo a series of tests simulating conditions it will face during launch and while orbiting the moon. Just like an astronaut, you could say that spacecraft have to go through basic “training” as well. If LADEE is found incapable of withstanding the harsh conditions of outer space, then it’s back to the drawing board to refine, repair and refit the craft for space travel.
In particular, acoustics will be tested to ensure that the delicate instruments can withstand the loud roar of a launch. The sudden jolt of the launch will also be a concern, as will the extreme temperatures found during launch and in space. Finally, vibration is a major concern. The intense vibration associated with launch and breaking through the atmosphere could leave a craft in pieces if it’s not built for endurance.
A number of mysteries surrounding the moon’s tenuous atmosphere have lingered since Apollo, according to project scientist Rick Aldee, and LADEE has the tools and the capabilities to solve many of them.
Set to launch August 2013, LADEE marks a number of firsts at NASA and in space travel and science in general. LADEE is going to be the first space craft launched from a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, as well as the first to launch from NASA’s Virginia Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility. An exciting new development in communications will have the craft communicating at broadband speeds to the Earth with lasers instead of radio waves, ensuring faster and more reliable back-and-forth between NASA operators on Earth and the craft itself as it orbits the Moon.
The launch will be a joint venture with Moffett Field having built the craft and managing the mission, Greenbelt, Maryland managing the science instruments, and the Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Texas managing LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.