NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will be orbiting the moon for longer than originally planned. The space agency announced on Friday that the spacecraft's mission has been granted a 28-day extension. LADEE is expected to impact the lunar surface after completing its mission on or about April 14, 2014. The extended mission provides the opportunity to collect an extra lunar cycle of data at a very low altitude above the lunar surface.
"The launch vehicle performance and orbit capture burns using LADEE's on-board engines were extremely accurate, so the spacecraft had significant propellant remaining to enable extra science," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif."This extension represents a tremendous increase in the amount of science data returned from the mission."
LADEE launched from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on Sept. 6, 2013. It reached lunar orbit on Oct.6, 2013. LADEE then began to test its scientific instruments and conducted a laser communications experiment. The spacecraft began collecting scientific data on Nov. 10 and on Nov. 20 it entered it's science orbit around the moon's equator at an altitude of eight to 37 miles above the surface. LADEE is studying the properties of the extremely thin lunar atmosphere and lunar dust.
"The science team has already established a baseline of data for the tenuous lunar atmosphere, or exosphere, and dust impacts," said Rick Elphic LADEE project scientist at Ames. "One cool thing about this extension is that we plan to fly LADEE at only a few kilometers above the lunar surface. This will be much lower than we’ve been before."
The LADEE spacecraft was designed, built and tested at NASA Ames Research Center. The mission's day to day operations are also controlled at Ames. LADEE was built using a Modular Spacecraft Bus architecture which can be adapted for a variety of different orbital or lander missions. The spacecraft is constructed from a lightweight carbon composite and has an unfueled weight of 547.2 pounds.