NASA Wallops Island's Big Launch Month

By Doug Mohney September 05, 2013

NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility (WFF) will be the site of two ambitious activities this month. Located about three hours drive from the nation's capital and an hour south of Ocean City, MD, the humble facility is scheduled to launch a satellite to the moon on September 6, followed two weeks later by a full-up demonstration of Orbital Sciences Corporation's commercial supply service for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is scheduled to be launched at 11:27 p.m. ET on Friday evening on board an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur V rocket. The launch will be the first interplanetary launch from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Built at NASA's Ames Research Center, LADEE is built around a modular common spacecraft architecture bus designed to lower the cost and speed up manufacturing and assembly of satellites. It will circle the moon for 100 days, gathering information about the near-intangible lunar "exosphere" atmosphere and dust at a low orbit between 31 miles and 93 miles.

Also onboard LADEE is a high-speed laser communication demonstration package. The demonstration is designed to show the ability to transmit 622 Mbps -- a data rate far faster than ever done before around the moon. To date, satellites have used radio frequencies and the use of smaller antennas, limiting data rates to tens and hundreds of kilobits per second. Laser communication holds the promise of lighter, smaller systems than today's radio packages, as well as using less power.

Another first is the launch of the Minotaur V rocket. The first three stages of the five stage solid fueled rocket are former U.S. Air Force ICBM Peacekeeper solid rocket motors, while the fourth and fifth stages are commercial STAR rocket motors supplied by ATK. Solid fuel provides advantages in terms of simplicity of operation, since there is no need to pump in multiple liquid fuels and gases for launch, but it also is more expensive.

Once LADEE leaves the pad, Wallops and Orbital Sciences have 10 days until the first launch of the Cygnus cargo freighter. Scheduled for September 17 at 11:16 a.m. ET, Cygnus will launch aboard an Orbital Antares rocket. Once in orbit, Cygnus will go through a series of test maneuvers with a targeted grapple and berthing to the ISS on September 22. This will be Orbital's first mission to ISS under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services development program. Successful completion means Orbital can start delivering cargo to the space station under an eight-flight, $1.9 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Both NASA and Orbital would like to see a smooth flight. NASA wants two fully qualified commercial providers for space station supply between now and 2015, while Orbital would be in prime position to compete for future ISS supply contracts between 2015 and the end of life of the space station. ISS is currently authorized to operate through 2020 with a proposal to continue operations through 2028.




Edited by Rory J. Thompson

Contributing Editor

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Related Articles

Mist Applies AI to Improve Wi-Fi

By: Paula Bernier    11/9/2017

Mist has created an AI-driven wireless platform that puts the user and his or mobile device at the heart of the wireless network. Combining machine le…

Read More

International Tech Innovation Growing, Says Consumer Technology Association

By: Doug Mohney    11/8/2017

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is best known for the world's largest trade event, but the organization's reach is growing far beyond the CE…

Read More

Broadcom Makes Unsolicited $130B Bid for Qualcomm

By: Paula Bernier    11/6/2017

In what could result in the biggest tech deal in history, semiconductor company Broadcom has made an offer to buy Qualcomm for a whopping $130 billion…

Read More

How Google's 'Moonshot' Could Benefit Industrial Markets

By: Kayla Matthews    10/30/2017

The term "moonshot" encapsulates the spirit of technological achievement: an accomplishment so ambitious, so improbable, that it's equivalent to sendi…

Read More

After Cisco/Broadsoft, Who's Next for M&A?

By: Doug Mohney    10/27/2017

Cisco's trail of acquisition tears over the decades includes the Flip video camera, Cerent, Scientific Atlantic, Linksys, and a couple of others. The …

Read More