The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a probe the size of a small car, took off at 11:27 p.m. Eastern time from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. LADEE rode into space aboard a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle by Orbital Sciences Corp.
LADEE later separated from the rocket, turned its power on and began communicating with ground controllers. NASA said it is investigating why LADEE commanded itself during technical checkouts to shut down the reaction wheels used to position and stabilize the spacecraft. But the agency expressed no alarm and said such an "anomaly" is not unusual.
"The LADEE spacecraft is working as it was designed to under these conditions – there's no indication of anything wrong with the reaction wheels or spacecraft," said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. "The LADEE spacecraft is communicating and is very robust. The mission team has ample time to resolve this issue before the spacecraft reaches lunar orbit."
LADEE is expected to arrive at the moon in 30 days.
The NASA-built observatory will orbit the moon to increase knowledge about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere, including whether dust is being lofted into the sky. Such knowledge could also help researchers better understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, the agency said.
The mission will also test a new laser communication system to determine whether it could provide faster satellite communications.
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