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Aye, LADEE!

ladee_8-4-11-268x150Good news as NASA’s new lunar orbiter LADEE (the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) is headed for the moon with all systems go. The 550 pound (248 kg) vehicle was blasted into Earth orbit aboard a Minotaur V rocket from the Wallops Space Center in Virginia. From there it will take a slow 30 day transit to lunar orbit.

LADEE is expected to reach the Moon on October 6 and serve for six months collecting data on the lunar dust that gets tossed up from the surface. With particles of dust developing electrical charges, it could be that the lunar surface is a bit more dangerous than we had previously thought.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Apollo astronauts noticed an phenomenon called lunar “twilight rays.” These appeared to effects of dust being tossed up high into the lunar atmosphere, but as the Moon’s atmosphere is only a few inches think, their seemed to be no good explaination for what they were seeing. LADEE also hopes to answer some questions about the rays.

In addition to the lunar dust mesurments, LADEE is carrying an experimental laser communications system that NASA hopes will make future communications with distant probes easier.

A Quick FIX To A Glitch
Shortly after take off, the LADEE probe developed a glitch with its reaction wheels. These workhorses are designed to keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction. The advantage to using them is that you don’t have to carry a lot of fuel with you. The disadvantage is they have to be carefully controlled. The glitch involved the reaction wheels exceeded their limits and the probe shutting them down. NASA reworked the software on LADEE and everything is back to normal.

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