Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (and LCROSS) to finally launch on the 18th

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Finally. LRO has been rescheduled and rescheduled quite a few times so far and it looks like it's finally going up.

A few other nations have been sending probes to the Moon (Japan, China, India), but the missions each complement each other in some fairly nice ways. LRO and Kaguya (Kaguya just hit the Moon a few days ago BTW, ending its mission) are the most interesting of the four. Kaguya sent back some of the most visually stunning images of the Moon we've seen for quite some time, but its resolution was still just 10 metres per pixel whereas LRO is one metre per pixel, which is good enough resolution to put Moon landing conspiracies to rest by imaging the landing sites; Kaguya wasn't able to do that.

What makes this mission especially interesting though is the presence of LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) as well, which will do the following:

1 - launch with LRO, then separate a bit later
2 - go on a slightly different orbit along with the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage rocket, going past the Moon and then into a looping orbit around the Earth
3 - hang out there for about three months as instruments are calibrated, then...
4 - go on a collision course toward the Moon. The Centaur will go first, hit the Moon and create a huge plume, and LCROSS will watch and observe as it follows. Then four minutes later LCROSS will hit the Moon too, creating a second plume. These will be viewable from Earth with powerful enough telescopes.

Here's where it will hit.



Assuming launch goes as planned the two will be impacting the Moon on October 8th this year. You can see a video of the mission here. The interesting part starts about halfway through.

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