Lunar Mission Launches, Successfully Enters Moon Orbit
June 24, 2009
After a four-and-a-half-day journey from Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has successfully entered orbit around the Moon. Engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center confirmed the spacecraft’s lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, June 23.
LRO launched at 5:32 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 18, onboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After launch, the orbiter separated from the Atlas V rocket carrying it and a companion mission, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and immediately began powering up the components necessary to control the spacecraft. The satellite will relay more information about the lunar environment than any other previous mission to the Moon.
During transit to the Moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the Moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the Moon. When close to the Moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the Moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit.
“Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission,” said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. “The LRO mission cannot begin until the Moon captures us. Once we enter the Moon’s orbit, we can begin to buildup the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features, and resources. We are so proud to be a part of this exciting mission and NASA’s planned return to the Moon.”
A series of four engine burns over the next few days will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During the commissioning phase each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit.
For its primary mission, LRO will orbit above the Moon at about 31 miles (50 kilometers) for one year. The spacecraft’s instruments will help scientists compile high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths.
The satellite will explore the Moon’s deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the Moon than any previous mission.
“We learned much about the Moon from the Apollo program, but now it is time to return to the Moon for intensive study, and we will do just that with LRO,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist at Goddard. All LRO initial datasets will be deposited in the Planetary Data System, a publicly accessible repository of planetary science information, within six months of launch.
The LRO mission is providing updates via @LRO_NASA on Twitter. To follow, visit www.twitter.com/lro_nasa.
For more information about the LRO mission, visit
Last updated June 24, 2009