Guide The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer Mission (LADEE)

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Lasers have the capacity to transmit data at rates that dwarf conventional radio connections. Its programme scientist, Sarah Noble, says the mission is likely to surprise a lot of people who have been brought up to believe the Moon has no atmosphere. The Earth has an exosphere as well, but you have to get out past where the International Space Station orbits before you get to this condition that we can consider an exosphere. At the Moon, it happens right at the surface. Scientists are interested in understanding such wispy shrouds because they are actually the most common type of atmosphere in the Solar System.

Mercury has one, as do a lot of the moons of the giant planets. Even some big asteroids are likely to have one, too. The dust phenomenon has puzzled researchers for decades.


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Apollo astronauts reported seeing a diffuse glow above the lunar horizon just before sunrise. The speculation has been that this glow was caused by electrically charged dust particles being lifted from the Moon's surface by ultraviolet light from the Sun. What it learns about the dust is also likely to inform engineers who are developing the systems to take humans back to the Moon and to other destinations where dust could be an issue, such as on asteroids. This fine particulate material, which comprises remnant rock shattered through eons of meteorite impacts, is considered a major hazard.

It follows electric field lines; it works its way into equipment.

Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)

One of the questions about dust on the Moon is an engineering question: how do you design things so that they can survive the dust environment. Apollo astronauts found the chaffing moondust would stick to everything.

And there are concerns that if such material were breathed in, it could lead to respiratory problems. This will take about a month. A further month will then be needed to commission the spacecraft before its altitude is taken down to as low as 20km above the surface for a day phase of science observations. As well as its three science instruments, LADEE carries a demonstration laser telecommunications payload.

NASA’s LADEE Spacecraft Concludes Primary Mission, Enters Extended Science Phase « AmericaSpace

This system promises a big jump in data transmission rates. Engineers are hoping the test terminal on LADEE will achieve download rates in the region of megabits per second. Today, Europe and the US will often download data from each other's probes, and there will need to be some cooperation if the new technology is to be used the same way in the future. Fine grains of dust striking the instrument will generate a current to reveal the total quantity of dust.

Because dust clouds levitated by solar radiation are predicted to move around, following the Moon's cycles of night and day, the current should strengthen every time the spacecraft flies into a sunrise.

Supporting Information

At the end of its mission, LADEE will crash into the lunar surface, beaming data back all the way to the end. Once thought to have no atmosphere at all, the Moon has been found to have a wispy 'exosphere' containing molecules such as helium and potassium.

Supporting Information

LADEE will search for silicon, magnesium and other elements ejected from Moon rocks, as well as materials deposited on the Moon by comets, including methane and carbon dioxide. The spacecraft will also demonstrate a new laser-communication system designed by NASA to boost the bandwidth of data transmission from space.

A successful mission could spur other spin-offs of the modular spacecraft, says Elphic. But so far, the only endeavour to have shown interest in the modular design publicly is the company Odyssey Moon, based in the Isle of Man. But in November, the company teamed up with competitor SpaceIL, and now, Odyssey Moon will help the Israeli non-profit organization to build its own spacecraft instead. With no other missions lined up, Klupar worries that the clock may be ticking for the modular experiment.

NASA's LADEE Spacecraft Concludes Primary Mission, Enters Extended Science Phase

McCoy, J. Fifth Lunar Conf. O'Brien, B. Space Sci. For the best commenting experience, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines.

You will be re-directed back to this page where you will see comments updating in real-time and have the ability to recommend comments to other users. What matters in science — and why — free in your inbox every weekday. Our award-winning show features highlights from the week's edition of Nature , interviews with the people behind the science, and in-depth commentary and analysis from journalists around the world. References McCoy, J.