Aug. 23--NASA will launch a probe to study the moon's atmosphere from Wallops Island -- the site's first lunar launch -- in two weeks, officials said Thursday.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, is scheduled to launch at 11:27 p.m.Sept. 6 from Wallops Flight Facility, NASA officials said at a news briefing at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Soon after the launch, LADEE will be visible to residents of the Eastern seaboard from the Carolinas to Maine.
During the 100-day mission, LADEE will collect data about the moon's atmosphere and measure lunar dust. Officials said the information they learn from the mission may be applicable to understanding other celestial bodies with similar environments, such as Mercury.
"It's a very exciting time for us," Doug Voss, launch manager at Wallops Island, said at the event. "We're looking forward to a successful launch and flight operation for LADEE."
Before the mission, it will take 30 days for LADEE to travel through space and another month to complete a commissioning phase, which includes testing a laser communications system capable of sending more data on light waves than is possible on radio waves.
NASA officials are looking to study the moon's atmosphere before other countries and private companies are expected to land on the moon within the next decade.
"Now's a good time while it's in a pristine, natural state," Sarah Noble, a LADEE program scientist, said Thursday.
LADEE will launch on the Minotaur V rocket, a U.S. Air Force excess ballistic missile which has been repurposed into a space launch vehicle, according to a news release. NASA officials built and tested LADEE at Ames Research Center in California.
The probe, which is about the size of a car and has a mass of less than 850 pounds when fully fueled, cost about $280 million, and NASA had the aim of keeping costs low in the project, officials said.
If LADEE does not launch on Sept 6, there are other windows in September and October when the probe could launch, officials said Thursday.
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