NARRATOR: LADEE; the first lunar mission to launch from Wallops Space Flight Facility. Will this satellite help answer some lingering questions from the Apollo days? Will the Laser Communication Demonstration help enhance the future of Deep Space communication? Find out on NASA EDGE.
CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.
FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look…
BLAIR: …at all things NASA.
CHRIS: Just over to our right is MARS.
FRANKLIN: The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
BLAIR: You got me there for a second because I’m here, wanting to announce that we’re going to watch LADEE launch here shortly. You got me thinking about Mars.
CHRIS: And LADEE is what?
BLAIR: The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmental Explorer.
CHRIS: Over the course of the next couple of hours, we’re going to be talking to a number of Subject Matter Experts live here on the set and also some pre-packaged interviews.
BLAIR: Of course, the big thing tonight is we’re going to witness a lot of firsts.
CHRIS: This is going to be the first time a rocket has ever been launched here at Wallops and going to the moon.
FRANKLIN: The second of the firsts is that this is the first launch of a Minotaur V rocket.
BLAIR: Just to clarify, the first launch of the Minotaur V ever or just here at Wallops.
CHRIS & FRANKLIN: Ever.
CHRIS: I tell you what…
BLAIR: A little milestone here tonight.
CHRIS: Let’s not give away all the milestones.
CHRIS: We’re going to be talking to a lot of subject matter experts and we’re going to let them talk about those firsts because we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of those too.
CONTROL ROOM: All stations, this is the launch conductor on the primary countdown net. T-minus 5 minutes and counting. PCC switch avionics internal power on.
FRANKLIN: Jim, Planetary Science, tell us about the Science that we’re going to learn from this mission.
JIM: You know this is a big step for us, going back to the moon. The Apollo astronauts, what they found when they were there were a couple of mysteries that LADEE is actually going to take a good hack at and solve, we believe. One of them, you know the moon was just so dusty, dust everywhere. And what they saw particularly right at the terminator area between the light and the dark part of the moon…
BLAIR: The tomorrowinator. That’s my term for it.
JIM: The tomorrowinator? Okay. That’s pretty cute.
BLAIR: It’s more positive than the terminator.
FRANKLIN: Explain the tomorrowinator.
BLAIR: As the light moves, it’s like the next day. You’re following the day/night line into tomorrow… the tomorrowinator. Sorry about that folks.
JIM: No, that’ll work. I’m good with that but what these guys saw were what looked like clouds of dust; jets coming up. What we believe is happening is some of this dust gets charged. There’s an electric field that occurs and that lofts the dust. It may go as high as 50 km, maybe even 100 km. These dust clouds LADDE is going to fly through. That’s one mystery.
BLAIR: Did astronauts demonstrate fear when they talked about it? Wouldn’t that be scary if you’re on the lunar surface and you look over at these things shooting up 50 km. into the air?
JIM: Are you kidding? After launching on a Saturn V, the fear of a little dust.
JIM: No, they were fearless. They had all the right stuff.
BLAIR: It’s true.
JIM: In any event, another big mystery about the moon is we’re finding that the moon has a very thin atmosphere. We actually call it an exosphere. It’s not like an atmosphere we have here where all our molecules collide. On the moon, those molecules, those atoms don’t collide but we want to know where that’s coming from. We want to know if the moon is out gassing. What is it out gassing?
BLAIR: What is out gassing because it sounds pretty bad.
JIM: Well, it’s exactly what you think happens. That is interior to the moon there is a variety of processes for which gasses will leak out. How does that happen? Well, that may mean that there’s volcanic activity but we don’t believe that. We believe the moon doesn’t have much of any volcanic activity. It did in its past, a lot but probably not today. You know the tidal forces continue to do the heating. There’s material that’s just underneath the surface that apparently leaks out on certain occasions. We want to understand what that is. That could be some volatiles. That could be some old cometary material that’s been laying right underneath the surface for billions of years.
BLAIR: How do you study dust particles? What kinds of things do you need in the mission to do that?
BUTLER: We have some science instruments on LADEE that will be flying very low over the surface of the moon. We’ll be flying into and out of the terminators. We’ll go into the dark, then into the light and then into the dark. We have instruments that are active during that time which will measure things. One of the instruments that we have is LDEX. It’s the Lunar Dust Experiment. It actually measures the impact of little, tiny dust particles against the instrument as we fly through the terminator. It can tell us how much dust is there. We have a Neutral Mass Spectrometer, which is designed to measure atoms and molecules around it. And then we also have an Ultraviolent Invisible Spectrograph, which is a remote sensing instrument. It actually looks at a distance to see absorption or emission of various elements around the terminator.
BLAIR: You’re also carrying a technology demonstration?
BUTLER: Yes, we’re carrying a tech demo experiment with us, a lunar laser communications demonstration. This is an experiment to transmit high bandwidth communication over optical lengths from lunar distance back to the earth. It’s a very important technology because right now we use radio frequency to transmit data back and forth but we have high hopes for optical communication. This is a key experiment to show that that’s possible.
BLAIR: Why would we move from radio communication to laser communication?
DON: There are a lot of advantages in using a laser. For example, because the wavelength is so much shorter, by about 10,000 times, it means you can make much narrower, tighter beams. A radio beam is a wider beam. A laser beam is a much more narrow beam. It lets you deliver more power, and more concentrated power at a distance onto the target you’re communicating with. I’ll give you an example. For our radio system from the moon, like the one that flew on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, their beam footprint covered the western United States. Our laser beam that’s going to White Sands, New Mexico is only about 6 km in diameter, so, it’s this little tiny spot on the earth. You have to do a lot of tricks to make that happen. First of all, you have to actually point ahead of the target because the time delay from getting from the moon back to the earth. Things are moving. If you point back to where the target was on the earth when you saw it, by the time the beam gets there a second and a half later it’s moved a little bit. You actually have to lead the target like a quarterback will lead a wide receiver with the ball. Another thing is that the spacecraft itself, little motions on the spacecraft from reaction wheels or instruments that are doing things; they will even disturb the beam. So, one of the things we’ve done with LLCD is develop a system that will measure the jitter motions of the spacecraft platform and then compensate out for that motion.
BLAIR: Do you still need the big radar dishes or what’s the footprint of the receiver down on the ground station?
DON: That’s an excellent question too. It’s actually much, much smaller. Instead of being a radio dish, you use a telescope cause you’re catching light. Just like you’re looking at the stars, you’re catching light. We use a telescope and we use a combination in the White Sands station. We have four telescopes that are about 17 in. in diameter. They’re ganged up. They have a fiber optic behind them so the light that comes in gets caught, and focused into that fiber optic and that takes it off to a detector. The detector sees those light pulses and turns that back into electricity. Those electric pulses become the data.
BLAIR: It seems like you’re having to do an awful lot, even though you’re getting more data…
BLAIR: It seems like there’s a lot of challenge factor. What’s the reward?
DON: Well, the reward is first of all you can get a lot more data bandwidth for the given size and power consumption of this terminal. If you’re going further out into space, you want to go to the moon, you want to go to the Lagrange points, you want to go to the asteroids like have been discussed, you can have a smaller terminal which uses less power. It’s got a smaller aperture. It doesn’t have a big radio dish. You get, in order of magnitude, more bandwidth. It’s actually less limited, meaning as our technology improves for laser communication we can get even more and more bandwidth. Why? Why do we care about that? Like you said, it’s a big risk. Because you can see NASA’s science applications and human spaceflight applications are demanding more and more bandwidth every year. Imagine, for example, if you wanted to go to an asteroid and you could have a 3D HDTV channel or several channels coming back from multiple angles and could actually do tele-presence. You could have someone here on the earth controlling a robot, a robotics spacecraft with 3D imaging capabilities picking things up. That’s the kind of bandwidth you need and that’s what laser communications can provide.
FRANKLIN: We’re back here live with Anthony Colaprete, the Principal Investigator for the Ultraviolet Spectrometer. Good evening Anthony.
ANTHONY: Good evening.
FRANKLIN: Give us a little insight about the Ultraviolet Spectrometer and its goals in this mission.
ANTHONY: Sure thing. The Ultraviolet Spectrometer is an instrument that separates light and separates it into little pieces so you can see what the light is made of. Our spectrometer looks from the ultraviolet, below what we can see it in the blue out past what you can see in the red, into the near infrared. What it’s looking for are signatures of atoms or molecules in the lunar atmosphere. When these atoms and molecules get into sunlight, they get excited and they’re relaxed. When they relax, they release energy called fluorescing and they send out a certain color light. By measuring that color of light, we can tell what kind of atom or molecule they are. It also looks for dust scattering. Just as you look in the sky and it’s a dusty day or there’s a fire and it scatters light, we’re looking for that too. That’s how we can measure, actually, within the instrument dust in the lunar atmosphere as well.
CHRIS: Are you looking for a specific color signature?
ANTHONY: The gas atoms? Yeah. For example, sodium is a yellow line.
ANTHONY: If we see this particular yellow line, we’ll know there’s sodium. By measuring how bright that line is we’ll know how much sodium is there. Dust is similar. Dust has got a broad shape to it. It’s not an individual line but depending on the size of the grains, the color, the slope, is it more red or is it more blue, will change, so we can say something a little about the dust as well.
FRANKLIN: You already know there are certain atmospheric species already there but you’re also searching for others.
ANTHONY: Yeah, we can see some of thse gasses here from Earth. Sodium in the atmosphere of the moon is measured routinely from Earth ground observatories. Another atom that is measured from the ground is potassium. During the Apollo era, we measured atoms like argon and helium but we suspect there are many others. We just can’t see. We don’t have the sensitivity with instruments. We’ve looked at ?? before or we can’t just see them from the ground. We know what the moon is made of, in general, the mineralogy and rock make up. And we think we have models and understanding for how it interacts with the sunlight and radiation. We think there should be other gasses there like iron, like calcium, and even, potentially, hydroxol OH and water. So, we are definitely on a hunt to discover what else is there around the moon.
CHRIS: Are you designing something that is high tech in the ultraviolet range or are you just buying components off the shelf, putting them together and flying the spacecraft?
ANTHONY: That’s a great question. Our instrument has a lineage that goes back to a spectrometer you can buy out of a catalog.
ANTHONY: That’s one thing about LADEE, keeping cost down and keeping it cheap. It’s something that we actually inherited the technique from the L-Cross mission, which I was a part of. This instrument has its lineage to the L-Cross mission, which was built and designed by a off-the-shelf catalog spectrometer. We worked with Draper Laboratories and Dr. Dave Landis who helped us take these commercial components, ruggedize them, build them to a much higher quality and standard so they can survive the 200 days we’re in space. And then at NASA Ames, we integrated into an instrument with thermal systems and what not. We’re able to do that much more efficiently and cheaply then having to build it from scratch.
BLAIR: I can’t tell you how little I understand about what this instrument does but I’d really like to. Can tell us about the basic science behind the NMS?
PAUL: Well, what I brought along was a prop here.
BLAIR: Props are great. Love them.
PAUL: This actually is the housing of a mass spectrometer, the vacuum housing. It’s empty right now but in LADEE it contains an ion source, which basically will pick up gass that will flow into this instrument and mass analyze it.
BLAIR: Okay. I see. So the ion… What was it again, the ionizer?
PAUL: The ion source.
BLAIR: The ion source.
PAUL: This is essentially a nose.
BLAIR: Oh, that’s a great way to describe it.
PAUL: You talked to Tony Colaprete. The UV Spectrometer is kind of the eyes. We’re the nose. We, kind of, sniff at what’s passing by us as we fly through it.
FRANKLIN: Talk to us a little bit about the terminator, the area you’re going to focus on with the NMS.
PAUL: Yeah. That’s a really interesting part of the lunar orbit as LADEE goes around the moon because what happens is even though argon is very, very inert when it hits the surface at night that surface is just so cold it essentially just freezes out. It resides on the surface. Then as the sunlight hits that part of the surface then it starts to bounce up into the atmosphere. As it hits a warm surface, it will bounce again. It’s not going fast enough to leave the moon. Gravity is still pulling it back. There’s a little part of the orbit around the moon where we should see those gases come up.
FRANKLIN: What type of science are you going to get from actually looking into the terminator?
PAUL: We have models of how we think these gasses should behave, the physics of how they behave, how high they bounce, how fast they come off the surface, what do they do in the grains when it’s very, very cold. Do they make their way to the very, very cold polar region eventually and just stay there? Like, for example water might do. If we make actual measurements, we can understand if those theories are right or not. Then, we really can predict what other exospheres with other atmospheres in places farther away from Earth that we can get to so readily look like.
BLAIR: We talked about the spectrometers that are going to be on LADEE but you’re a little bit more esoteric in your title. You’re just an experiment. What are you trying to prove?
MIHALY: Okay, in theory, we are closest to our friends who built the Lunar Mass Spectrometer. We are measure ?? measurements not remotely observing something. Right at the terminator, we are measuring the impact of dust particles as we fly around the moon. They will hit the instrument with speeds at roughly 1.6 km/sec. We can tell you every single hit, how big it was, how fast it came into the instrument. We can tell you how dense it is, what is its size distribution and how it is changing as we fly around the moon.
BLAIR: Have we ever done that before on the moon? This has got to be another one of our firsts we’re talking about.
MIHALY: This is the first one. There was a Japanese mission that carried a dust detector that flew at least a hundred times further away then we are. This instrument, of course, that was 20 years ago, the technology is much more sophisticated. This instrument is much more sensitive and it is dedicated to do the lunar dust measurements. It will do just fine.
BLAIR: Are you going to be able to use the information or data from the other two instruments to help what you’re doing specifically or are you all independent of one another?
MIHALY: No, no. The beauty, as most of the time it is, the sum of the three instruments is bigger than the three sets of measurements. Our ability to combine data from France with the UV Spectrometer and the Lunar Mass Spectrometer would give us a much better understanding of the dust and the atmospheric environment. None of us alone could go 49 yards. We need each other.
SARAH: NASA has done a really great job just over the last few years in building up our knowledge of the moon. We’ve got the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter there now which is building a great map of the moon and understanding the surface. Last year, we had the GRAIL mission that helped us get an understanding of the interior of the moon. LADEE is actually able to complete that picture by giving us a view of the atmosphere and dust environment around the moon. It’s actually really a great compliment to the route we’ve been on for the last few years of exploring the moon.
BLAIR: So, the idea there is after this we’ll have a very thorough glimpse of what life on the moon would be like or everything about the moon. No life on the moon, I didn’t say that.
SARAH: [laughing] There’s no life on the moon.
CHRIS: Whew! Wow.
BLAIR: Really, what’s going on there in a more complete way?
SARAH: That’s true. Yes.
CHRIS: Why are we launching from Wallops and not KSC?
SARAH: Ah. That’s a great question. So, the Minotaur V is derived from a Peacekeeper. It’s the first time we’ve launched a Minotaur V but not the first time we’ve launched a Peacekeeper.
CHRIS: Right, right.
SARAH: The first three stages are derived from a Peacekeeper and there are treaties in place that restrict where we can launch a Peacekeeper from. There are three places where we can launch it from, here, Kodiak in Alaska, and Vandenberg is the other one.
BLAIR: Oh, okay.
SARAH: We need to launch heading east in order to get to the moon. Wallops turns out to be the only really viable option for a place to launch from.
BLAIR: That will open the door for other launches of this kind for this facility.
SARAH: But certainly the biggest this facility has handled and they’ve handled it beautifully.
CHRIS: What are the people who are working on LADEE what are they experiencing right now? All the workers who are getting ready for this launch, what must be going through their minds?
SARAH: People have been working on this mission for 5 or 6 years now. They’ve put their blood, sweat, and tears into it for that long. We’re all sort of, fingers crossed, hoping for a beautiful launch tonight so we can pay that off.
CHRIS: Why does it take 30 days to get to the moon where as during the Apollo days it only took 3 or 4 days to get there?
SARAH: Right. The Apollo missions all went directly to the moon, which you can do if you have a great big rocket. Our rocket is a little smaller but it’s big enough to get us to the moon but we’re taking a scenic route. We’re actually looping around the Earth a few times. Each time we go around we get a little further out until we get far enough out that the moon’s gravity pulls us in.
CHRIS: Oh, interesting.
BLAIR: That’s kind of a slow, gradual approach to getting there.
SARAH: That’s right.
BLAIR: That’s interesting.
SARAH: But it gets us there and gets us there with a smaller rocket, less fuel and it actually is really great. It actually allows us some sort flexibility in the dates when we arrive.
CHRIS: Once it gets to the moon, how long does the mission last?
SARAH: We’ve got about 30 or 40 days to check things out, make sure the instruments are working the way we expect them to and then we have 100 days of science.
SARAH: Which is pretty short for your typical planetary mission but we’re really constrained with fuel because we are flying so close to the moon to get the data that we need that we have to use a lot of fuel to keep from crashing into the moon. We are doing orbit maneuvers every few days to maintain our orbit. That uses a lot of fuel. So, we have about 100 days and that’s about it.
BLAIR: We’ve been talking about a launch window, which I understand is the opportunity we have, a timeframe, to actually launch the rocket. Why is it 4 minutes tonight and then it’s 15 minutes tomorrow?
ED: The previous night it was only about a minute because of the configuration of the moon, the fact that the moon is moving around the earth. We want to go into these phasing orbits so that we can get a boost from the orbits around the Earth. That means we have kind of a narrow window. It opens up in time and after awhile it will close down again because it’s between September 6 and 10 is really the optimal time this month.
BLAIR: And that’s because we’re getting closer to the moon at that point.
ED: In principal, yes, but the moon is also moving in its orbit, so we have to get the most favorable orbital conditions.
CHRIS: So what you’re saying is it’s a lot of high-level mathematics.
ED: Well, orbital mechanics can be. That’s correct.
BLAIR: I’ll never get into that orbital mechanics club. I can’t crack the math.
ED: Right, right.
MISSION CONTROL: Page 59 of the LADEE Minotaur V. Final launch checklist. T-minus 1 minute and counting; orb-TM start, LCR DEWE.
MAN: DEWE started.
MISSION CONTROL: 1:22
FRANKLIN: Charlie, is this a great day for NASA?
CHARLIE: It’s a great day for NASA, for orbital, for the country, to be quite honest, because as you know, it’s the first time we’re going to the moon from the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
BLAIR: Yes, sir.
CHARLIE: Here at Wallops, everyone is excited. It’s just changed everything for this part of the country.
BLAIR: How does it feel to be part of something where we’re seeing all these firsts? I mean, Ames’ first spacecraft, first Minotaur V, first from Wallops to the moon. How do you express how awesome something like that is?
CHARLIE: It’s really awesome. I always reflect back to the 60s when the nation was at war outside the country. The nation was at war within because of the civil rights movement and yet, we landed on the moon. That was an absolutely incredible time, not very much unlike today, where we’re discussing war outside the country. We’re at each other’s throats inside the country and yet NASA and our partners are getting ready to launch back to the moon again. We’re trying to get humans to Mars, to places we’ve never been before. As always, NASA is a visionary organization, a group of future thinkers. We’re focused on the future. I think it’s good for the nation.
BLAIR: We’re seeing that from across the board from our social to the scientists involved to the engineers. People are coming together and they’re very excited about what we’re about to see, a very special moment. So glad we’re are here.
CHARLIE: One more thing I’d like to add.
CHARLIE: Just tonight, I’ve met colleagues from Korea, from Japan, from the Ukraine, from Canada, from Germany, like you said from all over the world. Some have nothing to do with this launch but they’re just excited with the fact we’re launching out of Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
BLAIR: Pretty impressive. From MARS, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
CHARLIE: It’s good stuff.
FRANKLIN: Well Charlie, we were happy to have you on the show. Everybody is excited to get to the launch and that’s what we’re about to move to right now. Everybody stay tuned, the launch of LADEE coming up in just a second.
MISSION CONTROL: T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, ignition.
[Rocket noise & cheers]
MISSION CONTROL: Lift off of Minotaur V.
BLAIR: Congratulations to NASA on another successful launch.
CHRIS: And all our guests on the show.
BLAIR: Spoiler alert: we already know that the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration was a success.
CHRIS: And to learn more about the Science aspect of the Mission, go to www.nasa.gov.
BLAIR: You’re watching NASA EDGE.
CHRIS: An inside and outside look…
BLAIR: At all things NASA.