Virginia earned a spot in space exploration history over the weekend, as NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation launched the LADEE Mission to the Moon from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island Friday night.
The launch took place from MARS Pad 0B, using a Minotaur V launch vehicle built by Orbital Sciences, a Northern Virginia corporation. LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) 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.
“[T]he nation witnessed a tremendous event at Wallops Island,” said Governor Bob McDonnell. “Virginia is honored to have played a role in this historic achievement and I commend the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA), Orbital Sciences Corporation, and MARS for their efforts. The Commonwealth stands ready to continue its support of future missions.”
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said, “Virginia strongly supports the aerospace industry and is very proud to have launched this historic mission to the Moon for the nation.”
24th overall launch
The LADEE spacecraft has a modular common spacecraft bus, or body. This is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs to multi-use designs and assembly-line type production, which aims to dramatically reduce the cost of spacecraft development.
The LADEE Mission is the 24th overall launch of the Minotaur family of vehicles and the fifth Minotaur launch from MARS. The Minotaur V will boost the LADEE Spacecraft into a highly elliptical orbit of 200 km x 278,000 km around the Earth. Over the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board thrusters to alter its trajectory to allow it to enter orbit around the Moon.
The spacecraft is designed to conduct a 100-day mission to measure lunar dust and examine the lunar atmosphere from an orbit of 50 km above the surface of the Moon. Virginia is one of only four states licensed by the FAA to launch to orbit.
The next scheduled launch from MARS is on September 17, 2013 at 11:16 AM EDT for Orbital Sciences’ Antares COTS Demo Mission, which is scheduled to deliver their Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) for critical cargo delivery.