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LADEE

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NASA Mission to Study the Moon's Fragile Atmosphere

LADEE model. Credits: NASA

[NASA Science Article - 23.10.2009]
Right now, the Moon is a ghost town. Nothing stirs. Here and there, an abandoned Apollo rover — or the dusty base of a lunar lander — linger as silent testimony to past human activity. But these days, only occasional asteroid impacts disrupt the decades-long spell of profound stillness.

And this stillness presents scientists with an important opportunity.

NASA Selects CU-Boulder to Build $6 Million Lunar Dust Detector to Orbit Moon in 2012

LADEE model. Credits: NASA

[CU-Boulder Press Release - 09.01.2009]
The University of Colorado at Boulder has been awarded a $6 million grant from NASA to build a high-tech lunar dust detector for a 2011 mission to orbit the moon and conduct science investigations of the dusty lunar surface and its atmosphere.

Known as the Lunar Dust Experiment, or LDEX, the instrument will be designed and built at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The instrument will fly on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment Explorer mission, or LADEE, an orbiting satellite that will assess the lunar atmosphere and the nature of dust lofted above the moon's surface.

Common Spacecraft Bus for Lunar Explorer Missions

LADEE model. Credits: NASA

[NASA Press Release - 01.06.2008]
NASA will include the Modular Common Spacecraft Bus in the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission. Watch a video of researchers testing the prototype compressed air propulsion system in a hover flight demonstration.

Usually space missions require unique spacecraft that are custom built for hundreds of millions of dollars, but an innovative Modular Common Spacecraft Bus will allow NASA to launch more missions for less money. By using a modular platform NASA will no longer need to “reinvent the wheel” for each mission and leveraging previous R&D further reduces design cost. The spacecraft is roughly one tenth the price of a conventional unmanned mission and could be used to land on the moon, orbit Earth, or rendezvous with asteroids. It was not easy to get NASA headquarters to believe in the project, but when high-ranking NASA officials saw a flight test, they were impressed enough to include the team in an $80 million dollar mission to the moon, called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

NASA Sets Sights on Lunar Dust Exploration Mission

Concept drawing of LADEE. Credits NASA

[NASA Press Release - 09.04.2008]
NASA is preparing to send a small spacecraft to the moon in 2011 to assess the lunar atmosphere and the nature of dust lofted above the surface.

Called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), the mission will launch before the agency's moon exploration activities accelerate during the next decade. LADEE will gather detailed information about conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these influences will help researchers understand how future exploration may shape the lunar environment and how the environment may affect future explorers.

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