NASA's lunar mapper goes into orbit around the moon
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 23, 2009
Four-and-a-half days after launch, NASA's $504 million Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its main thrusters for 40 minutes early Tuesday, successfully braking into an initial elliptical orbit around the moon.
"All stations, this is flight," the mission flight director said. "Congratulations on a successful LOI. LRO has returned NASA to the Moon."
Over the next five days, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will carry out four additional rocket firings to put the spacecraft in its so-called commissioning orbit with a low point of about 18.5 miles above the moon's south pole and a high point of 134 miles above the north pole. The orbit eventually will be circularized at about 31 miles above the moon.
"The tracking shows we're essentially where we planned to be, we're at the moon," said LRO project manager Craig Tooley. "It went like clockwork. With a mission like this, we spent literally years practicing for every possible contingency to be ready for this. In the end, it went exactly as planned."
LRO will spend two months in its commissioning orbit before maneuvering into the desired 31-mile-high mapping orbit.
Equipped with seven state-of-the-art cameras and other instruments, LRO will look for suitable landing sites for future manned missions while creating the most detailed lunar atlas ever assembled.
The 4,200-pound solar-powered spacecraft also will measure the solar and cosmic radiation that future lunar explorers will face and map out the surface topology, mineralogy and chemical composition of Earth's nearest neighbor. One year will be spent scouting future landing sites followed by three years of purely scientific observations.
LRO was launched by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last Thursday along with a companion spacecraft, the $79 million Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS. The two spacecraft separated shortly after launch.
LCROSS is designed to guide the Atlas 5's spent Centaur second stage to an impact in a permanently shadowed crater near the moon's south pole on Oct. 9. Instruments aboard LCROSS, LRO, the Hubble Space Telescope and at observatories on Earth will study the debris thrown up by the crash to look for evidence of ice.
MISSION STATUS CENTER