Space agencies around the world are planning to launch four missions to other worlds this year, evenly split between the moon and Mars. NASA will orbiters to each destination, while China will attempt to become only the third nation to soft land on the moon. India also looks to make history with its first mission to Mars.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.
The LADEE spacecraft’s modular common spacecraft bus, or body, is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly-line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles.
Onboard, LADEE will include three science instruments and a technology demonstration.
- Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer: will determine the composition of the lunar atmosphere by analyzing light signatures of materials it finds.
- Neutral Mass Spectrometer: will measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over multiple lunar orbits with the moon in different space environments.
- Lunar Dust Experiment: will collect and analyze samples of any lunar dust particles in the tenuous atmosphere. These measurements will help scientists address a mystery: was lunar dust, electrically charged by solar ultraviolet light, responsible for pre-sunrise horizon glow that Apollo astronauts saw?
- Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration: will demonstrate the use of lasers instead of radio waves to achieve broadband speeds to communicate with Earth.
China National Space Administration
Late this year, China will become only the third nation to attempt a soft landing on the moon. The six-wheel Chang’e 3 rover is set to explore the lunar surface for about three months and cover a maximum of 10 km (6.2 mi). The rover stands 1.5 m (4.9 ft) high and weighs approximately 120 kg (2060 lb) and will carry the following instruments:
- tools for digging and analyzing soil samples
- a radar unit capable of measuring the structure of the lunar soil to a depth of 30 m (98 ft)
- alpha particle X-ray spectrometer
- infrared spectrometer.
The 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) lander will have seven scientific instruments and cameras. The lander’s astronomical camera will be capable of imaging in the extra ultraviolet spectrum. It will constitute the first lunar-based astronomical observatory.
If the mission is successful, it will have a negative impact for the competitors in the private $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which is a private race to place a rover on the moon. The top prize will drop from $20 million to $15 million.
Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatile compounds—such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water—from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.
MAVEN’s instrument suite will consist of eight sensors:
- Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer
- Langmuir Probe and Waves
- Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer
- Solar Wind Electron Analyzer
- Solar Wind Ion Analyzer
- Solar Energetic Particles
- SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition
PI and Partners:
The principal investigator is Dr. Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).
MAVEN is the first Mars mission managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center.
The University of Colorado will coordinate the science team and science operations and lead the education and public outreach activities.
NASA Goddard will also provide mission systems engineering, mission design, and safety and mission assurance.
Instruments on the spacecraft will be provided by the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and NASA Goddard, with the Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Toulouse, France, providing the sensor for one instrument.
Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Md., will develop the spacecraft, conduct assembly, test and launch operations, and provide mission operations at their Littleton, Colorado facility.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will provide navigation support, the Deep Space Network, and Electra telecommunications relay package.
The still-unnamed orbiter (nicknamed Mangalyaan) is India’s first attempt to reach the Red Planet. Based on the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, the spacecraft will carry five instruments weighing 14.49 kg (31.9 lb.) that include:
- Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA)
- Methane Sensor For Mars (MSM)
- Mars Color Camera (MCC)
- Probe For Infrared Spectroscopy for Mars (PRISM)
- Lyman-alpha photometer – would measure atomic hydrogen in the Martian atmosphere.
The orbiter is set for launch in November and will be inserted into a highly elliptical 500 x 80,000 km (310 x 49,710 mile) orbit in September 2014.