NASA’s LADEE to ‘Take the Plunge’!
Launched from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility on Sept 6, 2013, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft with its three science payload instruments has been working to unravel mysteries of the lunar atmosphere and dust environment.
The vending-machine size spacecraft began orbiting the Moon on Oct 6, and on Nov 10 LADEE began gathering science data. On Nov 20 the spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon’s equator. Following a very successful 100-day prime science phase, LADEE has since been in extended mission operations.
Currently the spacecraft is gradually lowering its orbital altitude over the Moon and is slated to impact (crash!) into the lunar surface later this month. The question is when will this impact take place…and NASA wants to hear your best guess.
On April 11 ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center will command LADEE to perform its final orbital maintenance maneuver prior to a total lunar eclipse on April 15 (when Earth’s shadow will pass over the moon). This approximately four hour eclipse will expose the spacecraft to conditions just on the edge of what it was designed to survive. Mission managers expect LADEE to impact the Moon’s surface on, or before, April 21.
The spacecraft’s final maneuver will ensure that its trajectory impacts the far side of the moon, out of the Earth’s view and well away from any previous lunar mission landings so as to not disturb these sites. There are no plans to target a particular impact location on the lunar surface, however, and the exact date and time depends on several factors.
“The moon’s gravity field is so lumpy, and the terrain is so highly variable with crater ridges and valleys that frequent maneuvers are required or the LADEE spacecraft will impact the moon’s surface,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames, in a recent NASA news release. “Even if we perform all maneuvers perfectly, there’s still a chance LADEE could impact the moon sometime before April 21, which is when we expect LADEE’s orbit to naturally decay after using all the fuel onboard.”
And this is where YOU come in…
When do you think it’ll take the plunge? Date? Time? NASA is inviting folks to enter the ‘Take the Plunge: LADEE Impact Challenge’. Anyone is eligible to enter, and more information along with an entry submission form can be found here. Submissions deadline is 3 pm PDT Friday, April 11. Winners will be announced after impact (crash!) and will be e-mailed a commemorative, personalized certificate from the LADEE program. And yes, I’ve already entered!
LADEE’s Sept 6, 2013 launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp Minotaur V rocket. Image Credit: NASA Wallops/Chris Perry
All images used credited to NASA.