NASA’s first use of a low-cost, modular spacecraft design will be put into an unusually low orbit of the Moon to sample its atmosphere and dust and create a profile that will be useful for studies throughout the Solar System.
The Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (Ladee) is still in the early days of mission and science planning but is booked for an Oct. 28, 2012, liftoff on an Orbital Sciences Minotaur V from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., space complex. It will be the debut of the five-stage solid propellant Minotaur V as a low-cost alternative for planetary missions.
Ladee is the first application of NASA Ames Research Center’s Modular Common Bus, a tiered satellite development program that aims for all-inclusive costs of as little as $50 million for simple missions (AW&amp;ST Jan. 5, 2009, p. 32). With four tiers, Ladee is more complex than that; its budget is $200 million.
The project will rely heavily on the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and instruments approach that is basic to the low-cost/quick-build common bus concept.
The first contract has gone to Space Systems/Loral to build a propulsion system derived from its signature 1300-series communications satellite platform. Ladee will circle the Moon’s equator at a 5-deg. inclination at a nominal altitude of just 50 km. (31 mi.), lower than any previous lunar satellite’s planned orbit.
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