NASA is getting ready to launch a new mission to the moon, unfortunately it wont be manned.
NASA is launching LADEE — Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer — to orbit the moon and study the atmosphere and lunar dust movements. LADEE is a small robotic craft that weighs less than 850 pounds fully fueled, making it about the size and weight of a very small car.
The purpose of the mission, according to the mission page on NASA’s website, is to gather detailed information on the tenuous atmosphere of our original satellite. The thought is that studying the lunar surface and atmosphere in more depth will allow scientists to have a better understanding of other planets in our solar system.
The new moon mission is also going to be testing a number of firsts. The launch itself will take place at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the first launch ever at this facility. The Minotaur V launch vehicle is going to have its first mission flight. LADEE is the first of its kind modular design with the intention of being multi-use, which will allow future robotic probes and explores to be cheaper and more efficient. While this will be an unmanned mission, it is exciting that we are launching a new mission to the moon. The last first of this mission will be the testing of a new laser communications system.
LADEE is expected to launch Sept. 6 and have a mission lasting 160 days; 30 days to reach the moon, 100 days of scientific exploration, and 30 days to return. With the innovations in the explorer’s design and shifting to a lighter cheaper form of communication, this will be one of the cheapest missions NASA has tested. If all goes well then we may be seeing more missions as NASA perfects what they can do on their tight budget.
The laser communication system is about half the size and weight of the traditional radio transmitter that is on board LADEE. NASA is testing the system out in the hopes that they will be able to have higher data transfers as well as testing it for future Mars missions. It is hoped that the laser communications system will allow around 20 Mbps to be uploaded to the craft and about 622 Mbps to be downloaded.
The system will work like this: once LADEE is facing us a laser will be beamed to its approximate location in space, once LADEE receives the transmission it will lock on and beam down its own laser signal. Once both sights have made connection then the transfer of information can commence. It will allow for tight, specific information to be passed back and forth and the further away an object is the more efficient the communication becomes; especially when compared to radio transmission.
With so many firsts, this is much more than a mission to study the atmosphere of the moon. While the mission will provide valuable data that will allow us to better understand the atmosphere of planets around us, this is also a test of new manufacturing processes as well as communication systems. There is more going on that it may first appear and regardless that this is an unmanned mission, its exciting to be launching a new mission to the moon.
By Iam Bloom