NASA's Friday night launch of the LADEE lunar satellite from Wallops Island, Va., was seen from Maine all the way down to North Carolina, proving to be a social media boon to the agency and Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Launched at 11:27 p.m. ET on Sept. 6, the Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur V launch vehicle lit up the night with white fire as it left the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport 0B launch pad from Wallops Island. Quickly ascending into the dark night sky, LADEE crossed the 100 kilometer boundary into space in about two minutes and 20 seconds as the Minotaur rapidly burned through its first two solid fuel stages.
Thanks to a clear evening sky and customized regional viewing directions provided by Orbital's PR department, the launch was viewed and photographed at landmarks around Washington, D.C. and at the top of Rockefeller Center in New York City. The most spectacular images include time-lapse shots taken above D.C. and New York City skylines.
NASA LADEE launch (Image via Space.com)
A total of five solid rocket stages with a total burn time of almost 24 minutes placed LADEE in a highly elliptical lunar transfer orbit of about 200 kilometers by 278,000 kilometers. One hiccup occurred during LADEE's initial in-orbit checkout on the morning of Sept. 7. The first attempt to spin up the satellite's reaction wheel was stopped by the spacecraft due to fault protection limits put into place for lift-off. A few hours later, mission operators were able to successfully bring the wheels back on-line and configure the spacecraft for its cruise to the moon.
Over the next 21 days, LADEE will circle the Earth three times and fire its thrusters along the way to arrive in a stable lunar orbit. From there, LADEE will descend to an orbit between 20 kilometers to 60 kilometers and start its 100 day science mission, gathering information on the faint lunar atmosphere and dust conditions.
During its descent toward the moon, LADEE will run a high-speed laser communications package. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) will move date at speeds of up to 622 Mbps down from lunar orbit and with uplink speeds at around 20 Mbps. LLCD is part of a larger program to incorporate laser communications into satellite operations for use in both deep space probes and in Earth orbit. Moving to laser for in-orbit big data apps offers power and mass savings along with substantially higher data rates.
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