NASA launches first Lunar probes in a decade
NASA successfully launched its first Lunar probes in a decade today when the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO lifted off on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 5:32 p.m. EDT.
LRO safely separated from LCROSS 45 minutes later. LCROSS then was powered-up, and the mission operations team at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., performed system checks that confirmed the spacecraft is fully functional.
LCROSS and its attached Centaur upper stage rocket separately will collide with the moon at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2009, creating a pair of debris plumes that will be analyzed for the presence of water ice or water vapor, hydrocarbons and hydrated materials. The spacecraft and Centaur are tentatively targeted to impact the moon's south pole near the Cabeus region. The exact target crater will be identified 30 days before impact, after considering information collected by LRO, other spacecraft orbiting the moon, and observatories on Earth.
The LRO will be placed in low polar orbit about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, above the moon for a one year primary mission. LRO'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, exploring permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans.
High resolution imagery from LRO's camera will help identify landing sites for future explorers and characterize the moon's topography and composition. The hydrogen concentrations at the moon's poles will be mapped in detail, pinpointing the locations of possible water ice. A miniaturized radar system will image the poles and test communication capabilities.