Moon exploration is in the midst of a renaissance. After years of nearly total neglect, new missions are discovering that Earth's natural satellite is a much more interesting destination than once thought.
On Friday, Planetary Radio host Mat Kaplan joined us in the KPCC Crawford Family Forum for the live launch of the newest lunar explorer along with expert guests on everything above the stratosphere.
To mark this historic event, astronomer Bruce Betts and UCLA planetary scientist David Paige (and via telephone Bill Nye "the Science Guy") joined Kaplan for a discussion on NASA's launch of the LADEE orbiter—the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. We also spoke with Brian Day, education and public outreach lead for the LADEE Mission, who joined us from the launch site in Virginia.
Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) launched September 6, 2013, on a Minotaur-V. It is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.
The LADEE spacecraft's modular common spacecraft bus, or body, is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly-line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles.
LADEE is designed to characterize the tenuous lunar atmosphere and dust environment from orbit. The scientific objectives of the mission are: 1) Determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the fragile lunar atmosphere; and 2) Determine the size, charge, and spatial distribution of electrostatically transported dust grains and assess their likely effects on lunar exploration and lunar-based astronomy. Further objectives are to determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at 10s of km above the surface were Na glow or dust and document the dust impactor environment (size-frequency) to help guide design engineering for outpost and future robotic missions.
The nominal science orbit will last 100 days. The orbiter will carry a Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS), an Ultraviolet/Visible Spectrometer (UVS), and a Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX). There is also a technology demonstration, the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD). Spacecraft communications will be via S-band with a 10 Kbps science data rate. Total mass of the orbiter is approximately 383 kg, with power of 295 Watts.
The instruments will detect and constrain the abundances of species expected to be prevalent at and below the 50 km altitude, due to the solar wind and its interactions with the surface, release from regolith, and radiogenic sources. The NMS is a quadrupole mass spectrometer designed ot detect species up to 150 amu and will look for CH4, S, O, Si, Kr, Xe, Fe, Al, Ti, Mg, OH, and H2O. The UVS will detect Al, Ca, Fe, K, Li, Na, Si, T, Ba, Mg, H2O, and O and will monitor the dust composition. The LDEX is an impact ionization dust detector designed to measure particles down to 0.3 microns at the spacecraft altitude. The LLCD is a test of a high data-rate optical (laser) communications system.
Mat Kaplan: producer of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Bruce Betts: resident planetary scientist and Director of Projects for The Planetary Society
Brian Day, the Education and Public Outreach Lead for the LADEE Mission, and Director of Communication and Citizen Science for the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.
Bill Nye: the Science Guy and CEO of The Planetary Society
David Paige: Professor of Planetary Sciences in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at UCLA; Principal Investigator of the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, an instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission that is currently orbiting the Moon.
Check out these notable images and videos shared on social media:
Did you see it last night? If not, NASA LADEE launch captured from the top of Rockefeller Center in NYC By B. Cooper pic.twitter.com/ksLa48GaNT— The SETI Institute (@SETIInstitute) September 7, 2013