Posted: April 23, 2008
A robotic precursor of resuming human expeditions to the moon will likely be postponed by at least a few weeks from its October launch target, but NASA does not foresee any problems launching the lunar orbiter and high-speed impactor before the end of this year. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an observatory to map the lunar surface in search of potential landing sites for future human missions, is about two weeks behind schedule in meeting the craft's appointed launch date, said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
"We know that there are things that await us as we pass through (testing) that will certainly take some unplanned time," Tooley said. "That's what experience has taught us on spacecraft here at Goddard."
Officials with the piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, a secondary payload designed to take a suicidal plunge into one of the moon's impact crater, said their mission is about a month ahead of schedule.
Both missions are currently on the books for liftoff aboard an Atlas 5 rocket at about 1055 GMT (6:55 a.m. EDT) Oct. 28, the first day of a series of launch opportunities stretching through the end of 2008. But LRO's ambitious schedule of integration and testing will likely push launch into at least the middle of November, according to Tooley.
Tooley said project officials accepted a requirement to launch LRO before the end of this year, and the mission's ground processing plan leaves plenty of schedule margins to meet that time constraint.
"We have a whole series of launch opportunities that stretch from Oct. 28 through the end of the calendar year that we work with the Atlas launch vehicle. In all likelihood, as we get a little closer we'll probably pick one of those launch opportunities there in November or somewhere and say 'that's the one we're going to hit,'" Tooley said.
Five launch periods are available for LRO this year, beginning Oct. 28, Nov. 11, Nov. 24, Dec. 8 and Dec. 22. Each of the opportunities spans four days.
See our chart showing launch dates and times here.
"We are much more unconstrained than a planetary mission," Tooley said. "The moon is always there, and to establish the kind of orbit we're headed for and do a trajectory to the moon we can go almost every day."
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