LADEE - to hunt for moon secrets

Among ufologists, from those who believe in an American landing on the moon, legends about glass towers and castles that astronauts saw there still go. Despite the fact that current knowledge of the Moon denies the possibility of the presence of fabulous buildings on our natural satellite, the question of what astronauts observed was open. To solve it, a new NASA mission starts tomorrow morning to the moon: LADEE Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer.

The name of the device itself can evoke the emotion “Wat?”. Yes, Americans are flying to study the lunar atmosphere. After school truths about the lack of atmosphere there, the goal of the mission looks at least strange. But it is no less strange as the “glass locks” observed from its surface.


As it turned out, the moon is a rather massive body, so its gravity is able to maintain some kind of atmosphere. Its more correct name is the exosphere.


If the density of the atmosphere of Mars is about 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere, then the moon is about 0.001%. On Earth, in one cubic centimeter contains about 100 billion air molecules, on the Moon - from 100 thousand to 10 million gas molecules. Thus, the density of the atmosphere at the lunar surface is the approximate density of the Earth’s atmosphere at the height of the International Space Station. And although, formally, the local conditions can be called a vacuum, in fact the station has to be regularly raised, because it slows down on the atmosphere and gradually decreases.

In addition, dust makes a significant contribution to the composition of the lunar exosphere. Despite the absence of visible meteorological phenomena on the moon, the dust concentration above the surface can vary. Those. in fact, we can talk about dust storms on the moon. Of course, they can not be compared with the Martian or terrestrial ones, but it is dust, together with exospheric gases, that is responsible for the effect of the observed glow above the surface of the moon at dawn.


The reasons that raise dust on the moon have yet to be studied, while there are two working hypotheses: meteorite effects and the electrification of dust under the influence of solar radiation.

LADEE must verify these assumptions during its 100-day mission.
The decision to conduct such studies was made back in 2007. Its main principles were cheapness: the use of only those devices that do not need to be developed from scratch, and you can take ready-made drawings. The mission’s budget was planned very modest by Nassian standards - $ 80 million (in fact it turned out twice as much).

The active phase of construction began in 2012. Thus, NASA built the interplanetary spacecraft in less than two years.


The spacecraft developed at NASA Ames Research Center is built on a modular scheme, which allows you to assemble vehicles for various purposes like beads.


LADEE is not intended for landing, but the developed modular scheme suggests the possibility of creating landing machines. Such research stations can go to the moon, Mercury, or nearby asteroids.


LADEE will be the first experimental modular device that can verify the effectiveness of such a design.

Inside the housing there is a rocket engine, fuel tanks, and onboard service systems: control, orientation, power supply, thermal control, etc.


Scientific and experimental instruments are located on the outside of the case. Three of them will allow you to explore the atmosphere and dust of the moon, and the fourth device - LLCD (Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration) - will bring closer the dream of broadband in the solar system and HD video from Mars, Jupiter or Saturn.


The UVS Ultraviolet-Visible Spectrometer is a small telescope that will observe the glow of the atmospheric limb as the satellite crosses the terminator (the border of the Sun-lit and shadow side of the surface). An ultraviolet spectrometer will evaluate the emission spectra and determine which substances are present in the atmosphere.



The composition of the lunar atmosphere will be studied by NMS - Neutral Mass Spectrometer. This is a quadrupole mass spectrometer , which will be able to study in detail the composition and mass of molecules and atoms of gases in the atmosphere of our satellite. NMS was borrowed from the Cassini station, which has long and successfully studied Saturn, Titan and other satellites in the ringed giant system.


Dust will also be studied by the mass of particles, but by a device of a different design. The LDEX instrument (Lunar Dust Experiment) is a time-of-flight mass analyzer , and outwardly it resembles a car headlight on the contrary.


It is closed by a lid and has a parabolic trap, which will be turned forward along the flight of the device. When a speck of dust falls into a trap, a microexplosion occurs as a result of a collision due to the LADEE flight speed. The ionized particles that arise in it fall on a highly sensitive microchannel plate. The detector registers the speed of the ions and calculates their mass from it. More about the device.

The LLSD (Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration) experiment should demonstrate the possibility of transmitting information in space through a laser beam. For example, the speed of information transmission from Mars, over the air, from the most modern and powerful satellite that is there - MRO - reaches a speed of 2 Mbps. A laser communications device hosted on LADEE should provide speeds of up to 622 Mbps.


Communications will be maintained with three receiving stations on Earth: A
station on Tenerife in Spain is provided by the European Space Agency under a program of cooperation with NASA.

In addition to star sensors, there are no cameras on LADEE that could capture the surface of the moon, i.e. in fact, the device will not be able to create so much information to verify the effectiveness of laser transmission. Therefore, most likely, the data will be transmitted first from the Earth to the satellite, and then back. To transfer scientific data in the traditional mode, LADEE is equipped with a radio transmitter and S-band antenna.

The LADEE scientific program involves work at different heights: 250 km and 50 km.


After the basic scientific experiments are completed, the apparatus will begin a gradual decline, which will end in a fall. Collision with the surface will be recorded by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter high-resolution camera, similar to how it was done with GRAIL devices .

NASA scientists hope that during the 100-day scientific program, they will be able to observe the lunar exosphere not only in a static state. The main scientific work will be aimed at determining the dependence of the “weather” state on the influence of the Sun, therefore, the main observations will be made on the lunar terminator.

In addition, scientists hope that they will be able to fix the meteorite’s fall, and fly over this area before the dust from the impact settles. When it was assumed that the Herschel space telescope, after working out its scientific program, would collapse on the moon, LADEE was ready to conduct research on the site of its impact. However the telescope was sent into the heliocentric orbit, and it remains to hope for luck.

Therefore, NASA asks for the help of amateur astronomers and students from around the world to help notice a meteorite collision. Such collisions are observed quite often, and the coincidence of a suitable LADEE orbit and a meteorite strike is only a matter of time and luck.

The tasks that are assigned to LADEE have a very specific practical application. During NASA's manned flights, which lasted a few days, moon dust created very significant problems for astronauts.


There are concerns that dust particles of nanometer size can be a carcinogenic hazard to humans. Obviously the negative impact of dust on devices and mechanisms. Therefore, mankind should study this problem much better in order to be prepared for all the difficulties that the future return to the moon and its possible colonization can put.

The launch of the Minotaur V rocket from the Wallops spaceport will take place on Saturday morning. Will be broadcast on Ustream . LADEE also has its own twitter: NASALADEE