Wednesday, June 5, 2013

LADEE ready to baseline the dusty lunar exosphere and test high-speed data link

Idealized view of LADEE, last of the Constellation 'precursors,' in lunar orbit [NASA/ARC].
Steve Nerlich

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is due for launch in September 2013 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. LADEE will study the composition and structure of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, including dust that may be lofted up from the surface. It will also undertake a demonstration of a laser-mediated communications system.

In a thick atmosphere like Earth’s, particles are constantly colliding with each other and hence moving in random and frequently-changing directions. The Moon is thought to have a surface boundary exosphere, which is a thin, collision-free atmosphere in which particles follow largely uninterrupted paths.

A key goal of the LADEE mission is to understand the dynamics of a surface boundary exosphere and how it changes over time, as external conditions vary. A surface boundary exosphere is probably the most common atmosphere found around celestial bodies in the Solar System, including Mercury, the majority of the large asteroids, the moons around our major planets, and the majority of large Kuiper Belt Objects. So, getting a better understanding of the Moon’s surface boundary exosphere is a good start to understanding those environments as well.

Indeed, there is a certain imperative to undertake this research now. The increasing interest in the Moon by a number of nations will lead to a steadily increasing frequency of lunar exploration missions that could change the natural composition of the lunar atmosphere, both through the stirring up of surface dust and by the addition of rocket exhaust components.

Read the article at, HERE.

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