An Atlas Centaur rocket carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 5:32 EDT in a perfect launch.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has separated from the Centaur upper stage and LCROSS spacecraft. LRO is on its way to the Moon. The trip will take about four days.
Meanwhile the LCROSS spacecraft will stay connected to the Centaur upper stage and enter into a long orbit around the moon and Earth that will terminate in their planned impact into the lunar south pole.
OFFICIAL PROJECT SITES
Backgrounders after the jump.
On the moon we will develop technologies to survive in the infinite frontier of space, because the moon presents the same challenges we will encounter throughout the universe: harmful radiation, electrified dust, and extreme temperatures.
Just as a scout finds the safest way for expeditions on Earth, NASA will first send a robotic scout, called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), to gather crucial data on the lunar environment that will help astronauts prepare for long-duration lunar expeditions.
LRO’s launch date is scheduled for no earlier than June 18, 2009. The spacecraft will spend at least a year in a low polar orbit approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) above the lunar surface, while its seven instruments find safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and test new technology.
These seven instruments will work together to give us the most comprehensive atlas of the Moonâ€™s features and resources:
Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation
The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) will characterize the lunar radiation environment, allowing scientists to determine potential hazards to astronauts.
Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment
The Diviner Lunar Radiometer (DLRE) will identify cold traps â€“ areas cold enough to preserve ice for billions of years — and potential ice deposits as well as rough terrain, rock abundance, and other landing hazards.
Lyman Alpha Mapping Project
The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) will search for surface ice and frost in the polar regions and provide images of permanently shadowed regions illuminated only by starlight and the glow of interplanetary hydrogen emission, the Lyman Alpha line. The bottoms of deep craters at the lunar poles might be permanently shadowed. These areas will be very cold and might hold water ice.
Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector
The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) will create high-resolution maps of hydrogen distribuÂ¬tion and gather information about the neutron compoÂ¬nent of the lunar radiation environment. LEND data will be analyzed to search for evidence of water ice near the moonâ€™s surface.
Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter
The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) will meaÂ¬sure landing site slopes, lunar surface roughness, and generate a high-resolution, three-dimensional map of the moon. LOLA also will measure and analyze the lunar topography to identify the permanently illuminated and permanently shadowed areas. Certain mountain peaks at the lunar poles might be permanently illuminated. These regions may be good places for a solar power station.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
Two narrow-angle cameras (NACs) on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) will make high-resolution, black-and-white images of the surface, capÂ¬turing images of the poles with resolutions down to 1 meter (about 3.3 feet). A third, wide-angle camera (WAC), will take color and ultraviolet images over the comÂ¬plete lunar surface at 100-meter (almost 330-foot) resolution. These images will show polar lighting conditions, identify potential resources and hazards, and aid selection of safe landing sites.
The Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) is an advanced radar that will be used to image the polar regions and search for water ice. In addition, it will be used to demonstrate the ability to communicate with an Earth-based ground station.
Earthâ€™s closest neighbor is holding a secret. In 1999, hints of that secret were revealed in the form of concentrated hydrogen signatures detected in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles by NASAâ€™s Lunar Prospector. These readings may be an indication of lunar water and could have far-reaching implications as humans expand exploration past low-Earth orbit. The Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission is seeking a definitive answer.
In April 2006, NASA selected the LCROSS proposal for a low-cost, fast-track companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The main LCROSS mission objective is to confirm the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater near a lunar polar region.
LCROSS is scheduled to launch with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., June 17th 2009 at 3:51 p.m. EDT. After launch, the LCROSS shepherding spacecraft and the Atlas Vâ€™s Centaur upper stage rocket will execute a fly-by of the moon and enter into an elongated Earth orbit to position LCROSS for impact on a lunar pole. On final approach, the shepherding spacecraft and Centaur will separate. The Centaur will act as a heavy impactor to create a debris plume that will rise above the lunar surface. Following four minutes behind, the shepherding spacecraft will fly through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before impacting the lunar surface and creating a second debris plume.
The debris plumes are expected to be visible from Earth- and space-based telescopes 10-to-12 inches and larger.
The LCROSS science payload consists of two near-infrared spectrometers, a visible light spectrometer, two mid-infrared cameras, two near-infrared cameras, a visible camera and a visible radiometer. The LCROSS instruments were selected to provide mission scientists with multiple complimentary views of the debris plume created by the Centaur impact.
As the ejecta rises above the target craterâ€™s rim and is exposed to sunlight, any water-ice, hydrocarbons or organics will vaporize and break down into their basic components. These components primarily will be monitored by the visible and infrared spectrometers. The near-infrared and mid-infrared cameras will determine the total amount and distribution of water in the debris plume. The spacecraftâ€™s visible camera will track the impact location and the behavior of the debris plume while the visible radiometer will measure the flash created by the Centaur impact.
NASAâ€™s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is overseeing the development of the LCROSS mission with its spacecraft and integration partner, Northrop Grumman, Redondo Beach, Calif. LCROSS is a fast-paced, low-cost, mission that will leverage some existing NASA systems, commercial-off-the-shelf components, the spacecraft expertise of Northrop Grumman and experience gained during the Lunar Prospector Mission in 1999. Ames is managing the mission, conducting mission operations, and developing the payload instruments, while Northrop Grumman designed and is building the spacecraft for this innovative mission. Ames mission scientists will spearhead the data analysis.