posted September 16, 2013
The inaugural launch of Orbital Sciences’ Minotaur V rocket on Sept. 6 carried the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, a mission Aerospace has been supporting for NASA over the past five years.
The late-night launch, lifting off at 11:27 p.m. ET from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va., was visible for hundreds of miles up and down the East Coast.
The LADEE mission was designed, built and will be operated from the NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California, where Aerospace maintains an office.
The LADEE satellite will orbit the moon as it measures the lunar atmosphere and dust. Scientists hope the mission will answer a question raised by an observation from Apollo astronauts back in the ’60s and ’70s. Crewmembers of Apollo 8, 10, 15, and 17 saw pale, luminous streamers pop up over the gray moon horizon about 10 seconds before lunar sunrise or lunar sunset. Back on Earth, we see “twilight rays” all the time as shafts of sunlight penetrate evening clouds and haze. The airless moon shouldn’t have such rays, yet the men of Apollo clearly saw them.
Members of the Aerospace Civil and Commercial Programs Division and Engineering and Technology Group played a significant role in this mission and its launch. Robert Bitten provided cost, schedule, and risk assessment during the early formulation phase of the mission dating back to 2008. Dr. Meg Abraham was the lead contamination engineer for integration and test at both Ames Research Center and Wallops. Alisa Hawkins is the Flight Dynamics System lead, in charge of maneuver planning. John Duffy provided analysis and recommendations in securing final spectrum approval from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for the transceiver prior to launch. Dan Judnick supported requirements verification and validation in the months preceding launch. Dr. Jon Neff leads the Aerospace office at NASA Ames. Aerospace will continue to play a role in the LADEE mission, supporting operations through end of mission in April 2014.
The Minotaur V is a five-stage space launch vehicle designed, built, and operated by Orbital for the U.S. Air Force. It uses three decommissioned Peacekeeper government-supplied booster stages that Orbital combines with commercial motors for the upper two stages.