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April 18, 2014
RELEASE 14-113
NASA Completes LADEE Mission with Planned Impact on Moon’s Surface

Concept art showing LADEE over the lunar surface
Concept art showing LADEE over the lunar surface
Image Credit:

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 17.

LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface. The spacecraft’s orbit naturally decayed following the mission’s final low-altitude science phase.

During impact, engineers believe the LADEE spacecraft, the size of a vending machine, broke apart, with most of the spacecraft’s material heating up several hundred degrees – or even vaporizing – at the surface. Any material that remained is likely buried in shallow craters.

“At the time of impact, LADEE was traveling at a speed of 3,600 miles per hour – about three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames. “There’s nothing gentle about impact at these speeds – it’s just a question of whether LADEE made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris across a flat area. It will be interesting to see what kind of feature LADEE has created.”

In early April, the spacecraft was commanded to carry out maneuvers that would lower its closest approach to the lunar surface. The new orbit brought LADEE to altitudes below one mile (two kilometers) above the lunar surface. This is lower than most commercial airliners fly above Earth, enabling scientists to gather unprecedented science measurements.

On April 11, LADEE performed a final maneuver to ensure a trajectory that caused the spacecraft to impact the far side of the moon, which is not in view of Earth or near any previous lunar mission landings. LADEE also survived the total lunar eclipse on April 14 to 15. This demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to endure low temperatures and a drain on batteries as it, and the moon, passed through Earth’s deep shadow.

In the coming months, mission controllers will determine the exact time and location of LADEE’s impact and work with the agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team to possibly capture an image of the impact site. Launched in June 2009, LRO provides data and detailed images of the lunar surface.

“It’s bittersweet knowing we have received the final transmission from the LADEE spacecraft after spending years building it in-house at Ames, and then being in constant contact as it circled the moon for the last several months,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames.

Launched in September 2013 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, LADEE began orbiting the moon Oct. 6 and gathering science data Nov. 10. The spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon’s equator on Nov. 20, and in March 2014, LADEE extended its mission operations following a highly successful 100-day primary science phase.

LADEE also hosted NASA’s first dedicated system for two-way communication using laser instead of radio waves. The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles from the moon to the Earth at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits-per-second (Mbps). In addition, an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps was transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the Laser Communications Space Terminal aboard LADEE.

LADEE gathered detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere. In addition, scientists hope to use the data to address a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow seen above the lunar horizon during several Apollo missions?

“LADEE was a mission of firsts, achieving yet another first by successfully flying more than 100 orbits at extremely low altitudes,” said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Although a risky decision, we’re already seeing evidence that the risk was worth taking.”

A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury and the moons of outer planets.

NASA also included the public in the final chapter of the LADEE story. A “Take the Plunge” contest provided an opportunity for the public to guess the date and time of the spacecraft’s impact via the internet. Thousands submitted predictions. NASA will provide winners a digital congratulatory certificate.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission. Ames was responsible for spacecraft design, development, testing and mission operations, in addition to managing the overall mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., managed the science instruments, technology demonstration payload and science operations center, and provided mission support. Goddard also manages the LRO mission. Wallops was responsible for launch vehicle integration, launch services and operations. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.

For more information about the LADEE mission, visit:

For more information about LLCD, visit:


Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington

Rachel Hoover
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Dewayne Washington
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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10:59 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 17

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft has impacted the surface of the moon, as planned. Additional information will be posted as it becomes available here at:

Click here for previous status updates

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, pronounced like “laddie”) is a robotic mission on its way to orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

The spacecraft was successfully launched at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, from Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. Visit for this week’s status updates.

LADEE is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Previous Status Updates

Oct. 17, 2013: During the NASA shutdown, the LADEE mission continued to perform its critical maneuvers and capture into the commissioning orbit around the moon. The trajectory correction maneuver (TCM-1) was completed on Oct. 1, and set the spacecraft to rendezvous with the moon on Oct. 6. The Neutral mass Spectrometer (NMS) cap ejection on Oct. 3 was successful. The first Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver (LOI-1) on Oct. 6 was very accurate, and required no course adjustments afterward. This is impressive performance of the propulsion system, given the size of the LOI-1 burn. This maneuver put the spacecraft in a 24-hour elliptical lunar orbit. The LOI-2 maneuver on Oct. 9 also was very accurate, putting LADEE into a 4-hour elliptic lunar orbit. The third and final LOI-3 burn occurred on Oct. 12, and put the spacecraft into the 2-hour commissioning orbit (roughly 235 Km x 250 Km). The LADEE spacecraft commissioning activities are now complete, and the instrument commissioning activities have begun. The LDEX and UVS aliveness activities were completed successfully on Oct. 16, with both instrument covers deployed. These instrument cover deployments were the last remaining planned critical events for the mission. All critical maneuvers and all instrument cover deployments are completed at this point. The science instrument commissioning and lasercom primary experiment will be conducted through mid-Nov., at which point the spacecraft will start to drop down to the lower lunar science orbit.

Sept. 30, 2013: LADEE currently is racing towards its final perigee swing-by of Earth tonight, prior to heading outward to meet the moon on Sunday, Oct. 6. On the way out, a small Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) will be performed on Tuesday, Oct. 1, around 3 p.m. PDT. This will fine-tune LADEE’s arrival time at the moon. The TCM-1 maneuver command products have been generated and verified, in preparation for this burn, which will be done using the small attitude control thrusters, rather than the large main engine.

Sept. 27, 2013: The LADEE spacecraft is past apogee – the point when it is farthest from Earth – and is headed back toward Earth for a final fly-by on Tuesday, Oct 1, 2013. The last perigee maneuver – when the spacecraft was closest to Earth – was perfect, so no maneuver will be needed during the fly-by.  The mission operations team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., performed a test of LADEE’s medium gain antenna for the first time, and everything looks good.  This antenna will be used to transmit science data to the ground, once LADEE arrives in lunar orbit.

Sept. 23, 2013: Analysis of the perigee maneuver main engine burn performed Saturday, Sept. 21, confirms that the burn was extremely accurate. This means that some of the later maneuvers, such as the last perigee burn (PM-3), may not be needed at all. The LADEE Flight Dynamics team is currently assessing the possibilities, and will make their recommendation soon.

Sept. 22, 2013: After the successful perigee engine burn maneuver yesterday, the LADEE spacecraft continues outward from Earth in its third phasing loop orbit.  The final science instrument, the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), has completed its initial activation tests, so all of the LADEE instruments have now been checked out after launch.

Sept. 21, 2013: LADEE just successfully completed the second perigee maneuver today.  This main engine burn places the observatory on the required phasing loop orbit to arrive at the Moon on Oct 6th as planned.  During the maneuver, the spacecraft passed through another Earth shadow eclipse, and the power system responded normally.

Sept. 20, 2013: LADEE continues in the phasing loops, and is approaching the next critical perigee maneuver early Saturday morning at 4:53 a.m. PDT.  The plans for the maneuver have been generated and verified, and backup plans prepared to handle any unexpected events that might crop up during the maneuver.  The spacecraft systems are healthy and the trajectory looks very good.

Sept. 19, 2013LADEE continues performing instrument checkout and calibration activities.  The Neutral Mass Spectrometer Argon and Helium Baseline activities are complete, and the telemetry data have been transmitted to the ground.  This completes the nominal NMS activities prior to ejecting the instrument cover later in the mission.

Sept. 18, 2013The LADEE operations team has completed more science instrument activities.  The Neutral Mass Spectrometer has performed cap ejection preparation, as well as peak spectra calibration.  The Ultraviolet-Visible Spectrometer has performed another dark calibration and is now in bake-out, where the instrument is held at higher temperatures in order to boil off any contaminants.  The spacecraft has flown through apogee, and is now on its way back towards Earth in the second phasing loop orbit.

Sept. 17, 2013: The initial electrical tests of the Lunar Lasercom Spacecraft Terminal (LLST) carried by the LADEE spacecraft were successfully completed yesterday.  These tests did not involve optical transmission to-from Earth yet, but checked all of the systems to make sure they survived the launch and are ready to perform the later experiments.

Sept. 16, 2013: LADEE is still performing normally.  Both the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) and the Ultraviolet-Visible Spectrometer (UVS) teams report that their instruments are healthy based on the initial tests performed this weekend.

Sept. 15, 2013: The LADEE spacecraft is still performing well.  The team just completed some initial science instrument checkout tests.  The protective covers are still on all of the instruments, so these tests power up and check the instrument electronics.  The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) aliveness and performance tests are complete, and the Ultraviolet-Visible Spectrometer (UVS) dark calibration test is complete.  The instrument teams have downloaded the data from these tests and are evaluating them.

Sept. 14, 2013: The spacecraft continues to be in good health.  The engineering team is assessing Perigee Maneuver 1 telemetry from yesterday.  The early performance analysis look very good so far.

Sept. 13, 2013 update #2: We have successfully completed the Perigee Maneuver (PM-1) main engine burn.   Flight Dynamics preliminarily reports that it was a good burn, and will confirm later in the orbit through ranging.  The spacecraft is back in Fine Pointing Mode, and did not go into safe mode before or after the burn.  The spacecraft also successfully went through its first eclipse, and operated as expected.

Sept. 13, 2013 update #1: The first LADEE Phasing Loop Perigree Maneuver (PM-1) has been uploaded and started on the spacecraft, with the planned main engine burn at 9:38 a.m. PDT.  The spacecraft is operating normally.

Sept. 12, 2013: The LADEE spacecraft completed the AM-1b maneuver yesterday.   We are currently in fine pointing mode, and everything looks good.  The post-burn engineering assessment is that the main engine performed very well with no issues.

Sept. 11, 2013 update #2: The AM-1 maneuver was successfully performed at 4 p.m. PDT today, Sept. 11.  This was an engineering test of the main Orbital Control System (OCS) thruster, which is the big main thruster sticking out of the bottom of the spacecraft. It will be critical for our big Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI-1 burn) on Oct 6.

Sept. 11, 2013 update #1: At around 7 a.m. PDT Sept. 10, the spacecraft went into safe mode due to an alignment error between the two star tracker camera heads, affecting the rate estimator when the sun occludes one of the cameras. We corrected the alignment error, and came out of safe mode this morning, Sept. 11, to resume normal operations.

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Astronauts Pay a Visit to Surveyor 3

On April 17, 1967, NASA’s Surveyor 3 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on a mission to the lunar surface. A little more than two years after it landed on the moon with the goal of paving the way for a future human mission, the Surveyor 3 spacecraft got a visit from Apollo 12 Commander Charles Conrad Jr. and astronaut Alan L. Bean, who snapped this photo on November 20, 1969.

After Surveyor 1′s initial studies of the lunar surface in 1966, Surveyor 3 made further inroads into preparations for human missions to the moon. Using a surface sampler to study the lunar soil, Surveyor 3 conducted experiments to see how the lunar surface would fare against the weight of an Apollo lunar module. The moon lander, which was the second of the Surveyor series to make a soft landing on the moon, also gathered information on the lunar soil’s radar reflectivity and thermal properties in addition to transmitting more than 6,000 photographs of its surroundings.

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module, visible in the background at right, landed about 600 feet from Surveyor 3 in the Ocean of Storms. The television camera and several other pieces were taken from Surveyor 3 and brought back to Earth for scientific examination. Here, Conrad examines the Surveyor’s TV camera prior to detaching it. Astronaut Richard F. Gordon Jr. remained with the Apollo 12 Command and Service Modules (CSM) in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the moon.

> Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3
> Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Looks at Apollo 12, Surveyor 3 Landing Sites

Image Credit: NASA


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