NASA Robotic Moon Mission Aims for Late-Night Launch Sept. 6

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-09-06

NASA Robotic Moon Mission Aims for Late-Night Launch Sept. 6

NASA's launch of its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, a robotic vehicle that is being sent to Earth's moon to conduct research about the moon's surface and dust, is expected to get under way at 11:27 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 when its booster rocket is set to be ignited.

The launch of LADEE is notable for several key reasons—the LADEE spacecraft is the first ever to be designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and its nighttime launch from Virginia is expected to be viewable in the night sky across much of the East Coast, according to NASA. It's NASA's first lunar launch from a pad in Virginia.

The LADEE robotic spacecraft will be sent to the moon atop a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, which is essentially a ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle, according to NASA. The launch is being done by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The LADEE project is a robotic research mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky, according to NASA.

A map of the potential viewing areas along the East Coast and instructions on how to spot the rocket as it is launched can be found on Orbital's Website.

The launch will take place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0B at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., with an expected launch time of 11:27 p.m. EDT. A 4-minute "window" of time will be available for the launch. The launch would have to be rescheduled for another time between Sept. 7 to 10 if the launch window can't be met, NASA stated.

The live launch will be broadcast by NASA TV in New York's Times Square from 10:30 p.m. Sept. 6 to 1 a.m. Sept. 7 on the Toshiba Vision big screen, according to NASA. "The Toshiba Vision screen is positioned directly below the world-famous New Year's Eve Ball on One Times Square. Visitors to Times Square, and around the world, can hear live audio of the broadcast by tuning into Third Rock Radio. Third Rock Radio can be streamed from the NASA homepage, and on smart phones and tablets through the Tuneln mobile app."

Viewers can also watch the LADEE launch live on from NASA TV beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT, according to In addition, the mission can be followed in real time @NASA and @NASALADEE on Twitter.

By using a former ballistic missile design to send the spacecraft on its way to the moon, NASA is "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," according to NASA.

The moon exploration mission is just the latest in the space agency's ongoing space adventures.

NASA Robotic Moon Mission Aims for Late-Night Launch Sept. 6

In August, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover celebrated its one-year anniversary on the Martian surface as it continues to bring back incredible finds to scientists back on Earth, including the discovery of solid evidence that ancient Mars could have supported life. Other rovers have visited Mars in the past, but none before have had the capabilities to dig into the Martian soil and then analyze the soil and rock using an on-board laboratory. Since landing, Curiosity has so far sent more than 190 gigabits of data back to Earth, and has sent back more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images, according to NASA.

The equipment on board the rover has also fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets, collected and analyzed sample material from two rocks, and driven more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), according to the space agency.

In July, the Curiosity rover began a long-awaited, 5-mile-long journey across the terrain of the red planet to begin exploring a rocky area known as Mount Sharp, 11 months after the rover arrived on the planet's surface. The Mount Sharp destination, which is in the middle of what's known as Gale Crater, is important to scientists working on the mission because it exposes many layers where scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The rover is expected to take nine months to a year to reach Mount Sharp, due to the care that must be used in crossing the unknown terrain. Since landing on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, the rover has been undergoing testing, software updates and initial experiments on soil samples on the surface of the planet.

Even as the Curiosity rover continues its exploration of Mars, NASA is already planning another scientific rover mission to the red planet, set for 2020, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The launch of another robotic science rover is part of a "robust multi-year program" aimed at preparing the nation's space program to send humans to a Mars orbit by the 2030s.

The 2020 Mars rover program, which has not yet been named, would reuse designs, parts and technology from the current Curiosity rover. By reusing Curiosity's successful blueprints, the space agency expects to save a lot of money in development costs, while continuing its exploration of the planet.

Full details of what that 2020 Mars mission will entail have not yet been determined. The specific payload and science instruments for the mission will be debated and selected later through an open competition after the scientific objectives for the mission have been formulated, according to NASA. The mission will also be contingent on receiving adequate funding.

Rocket Fuel