LCROSS Probe Nears Late 2008 Launch
Engineering teams are conducting
final checkouts of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing
Satellite, known as LCROSS, that will take a significant step
forward in the search for water on the moon.
The mission's main objective is to confirm the presence or
absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater near a lunar
polar region. A major milestone, thermal vacuum testing of the
LCROSS spacecraft, was completed June 5 at the Northrop Grumman
facility in Redondo Beach, CA.
To simulate the harsh conditions of space, technicians subjected
the spacecraft to 13.5 days of heating and cooling cycles during
which temperatures reached as high as 230 degrees Fahrenheit and as
low as minus 40 degrees. Previous testing for the LCROSS spacecraft
included acoustic vibration tests. Those tests simulated launch
conditions and checked mating of connection points to the Atlas V
rocket's Centaur upper stage and the adapter ring for the Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter, known as LRO.
The satellite currently is undergoing final checkout tests.
After all tests are complete, the LCROSS spacecraft will be
prepared for delivery to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for
launch processing and integration onto the Atlas V as a secondary
payload to LRO. Both spacecraft are scheduled to launch from
Kennedy in late 2008.
"The spacecraft steadily has taken shape since Ames delivered
the science payload in January," said Daniel Andrews, LCROSS
project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field,
CA. "It is a testament to the hard work, perseverance and expertise
of the NASA and Northrop Grumman teams that the spacecraft has
completed these critical tests ahead of schedule."
After launch, the LCROSS spacecraft and the Atlas V's Centaur
upper stage rocket will execute a fly-by of the moon and enter into
an elongated Earth orbit to position the satellite for impact on a
lunar pole. On final approach, the spacecraft and the Centaur will
separate. The Centaur will strike the surface of the moon, creating
a debris plume that will rise above the surface. Four minutes
later, LCROSS will fly through the debris plume, collecting and
relaying data back to Earth before impacting the lunar surface and
creating a second debris plume. Scientists will observe both
impacts from Earth to gather additional information.
LCROSS is billed by NASA as a fast-paced, low-cost mission that
is leveraging existing NASA systems, commercial-off-the-shelf
components and the spacecraft design and development expertise of
integration partner Northrop Grumman Space Technologies.