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LADEE to Continue Gathering Data Up to Planned Lunar Impact

Date: 04/03/2014
Category: Mission News & Science
By: Andy Shaner

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is gradually lowering its orbital altitude to continue making science observations prior to its planned impact on the moon’s surface on or before April 21.

Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., are maneuvering the spacecraft to fly approximately 1 to 2 miles (2 to 3 kilometers) above the lunar surface to gather science measurements at the lowest altitude possible.

A final maneuver will ensure LADEE's trajectory will impact the far side of the moon, which is not in view of Earth or near any previous lunar mission landings. Ground controllers have little room for error with LADEE's navigation system, and at these low orbital altitudes, a small error could mean the difference between continuing to orbit above the lunar surface and impacting it. Because of this, the team does not intend to target a specific impact location on the moon's surface.

"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. "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."

Read more of this story here.

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