Thursday, December 13, 2012

MoonKAM video of LRO in orbit, GRAIL twins to be deorbited Monday

Embedded video from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, "first footage of one orbiting robotic spacecraft taken by another orbiting robotic spacecraft at Earth's moon."
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is captured by one of the MoonKAM cameras from GRAIL twin space craft "Flow," last May 3, from a distance of a mere 20 kilometers, turning the tables on the spacecraft that photographed so many artifacts of human exploration on the lunar surface since 2009.
GRAIL twins set for controlled impact near the Moon's north pole, around 2228 UT, Monday, December 17

LRO has orbited the Moon more than 15,800 times during more than three years in polar orbit, its flight directors having long ago smashed all previous records for maintaining any vehicle in lunar orbit, while each day continuing to set a new record for total data returned by all existing and previous deep space missions combined.

The somewhat less robust GRAIL twins, including "Flow," (nee GRAIL B), are to be deorbited around 2229 UT, Monday, December 17, somewhere near the Moon's north pole, following a successful mission lasting slightly under a year. But because of the remarkably detailed models of the Moon's anisotropic gravity fields, build up from the GRAIL survey, future lunar missions (including communications satellites relaying data from the Moon's farside), function more efficiently and stay in orbit longer.

An ironic high-water mark for the U.S. commitment to "precursor" missions ahead of establishing an "extended human presence" on the Moon begun in 2004, as of next Monday the number of American unmanned vehicles in lunar orbit will fall from five to three.

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