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The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a space exploration mission scheduled for launch in early 2013. To carry out the mission, NASA will send a robotic spacecraft into orbit around the Moon, and use instruments aboard the spacecraft to study the Moon’s atmosphere and dust in the Moon’s vicinity. LADEE was announced during the presentation of NASA’s FY09 budget in February 2008. It will be launched aboard a Minotaur V from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

INSTRUMENTS: Instruments will include

  • a dust detector,
  • a neutral mass spectrometer,
  • an ultraviolet-visible spectrometer,
  • and recently announced a laser communications (laser comm) terminal.


  • Determine the composition of the lunar atmosphere and investigate the processes that control its distribution and variability, including sources, sinks, and surface Interactions. Characterize the lunar exospheric dust environment and measure any spatial and temporal variability and impacts on the lunar atmosphere.
  • Determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at 10s of km above the surface were Sodium glow or dust.


The LADEE instrument payload consists of three science instruments (NMS, UVS, and LDEX) and the LLCD technology demonstration.

  1. The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) is based on a similar instrument on CONTOUR and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument developed for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The NMS uses a high sensitivity quadrupole mass spectrometer with a 150 Dalton range and unit mass resolution.
  2. The UltraViolet Spectrometer (UVS) is based on the Alice instrument developed for the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), modified to enable both limbviewing and occultation modes with a spectral range of 230 to 815 nm. UVS will examine exospheric emissions and a broader continuum of forward or backward scattered light from dust down to -10 nm in size. In occultation mode, UVS will study dust distributions down to -300 m above the surface.
  3. The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) instrument is based on impact ionization dust detectors such as those flown on Cassini, capable of detecting small (<1µm) and slow (-2 km/s) dust grains expected in lunar orbit, will determine the mass of grains down to roughly 0.3 pm in size; smaller grains can be detected through the collective effects of many impacts.
  4. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) system will transmit data at rates varying between 50-600 megabits/second during a dedicated testing period prior to nominal science operations. If successful, subsequent opportunities to download science data through the LLCD will be taken as resources allow.


The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was a robotic spacecraft operated by NASA in 2009, whose main objective was to explore the presence of water ice on the Moon in lunar southern pole region. LCROSS was designed to obtain data from the debris plume resulting from the impact of the launch rocket’s spent Centaur upper stage at the permanently shadowed Cabeus crater near the south pole of the Moon.

It was launched together with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in June 2009, as part of the shared Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, the first American mission to the Moon in over ten years. Together, LCROSS and LRO form the vanguard of NASA’s return to the Moon, and are expected to influence United States government decisions on whether or not to colonize the Moon.


Centaur impacted successfully in October 2009 and data was gathered from the debris plume and relayed back to earth. NASA reported evidence of presence of both water and hydroxyl, an ion related to water, in the frozen lunar soil. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis. Evidence from other missions suggests that this may have been a relatively dry spot, as thick deposits of relatively pure ice appear to present themselves in other craters.


Dragon is a free-flying, reusable spacecraft being developed by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005, the Dragon spacecraft is made up of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members. In December 2010, it became the first spacecraft ever placed in orbit and recovered by a private company.

  • The first operational Dragon missions will be flown for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
  • Dragon is designed to carry up to seven people, or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit.
  • These flights will be contracted under the Commercial Resupply Services program.

Dragon’s heat shield is designed to withstand re-entry velocities from potential lunar and Martian space flights.


  • Fully autonomous rendezvous and docking with manual override capability in crewed configuration
  • 6,000 kg payload up-mass to LEO; 3,000 kg payload down-mass
  • Payload Volume: 10 m3 (350 ft3) pressurized, 14 m3 (490 ft3) unpressurized
  • Supports up to 7 passengers in Crew configuration
  • Reaction control system with 18 MMH/NTO thrusters designed and built in-house; these thrusters are used for both attitude control and orbital manoeuvring
  • 1290 kg of propellant supports a safe mission profile from sub-orbital insertion to ISS rendezvous to re-entry
  • Integral common berthing mechanism, with LIDS or APAS support if required Designed for water landing under parachute for ocean recovery
  • Lifting re-entry for landing precision & low-g’s
  • Ablative, high-performance heat shield and sidewall thermal protection



Authorized by Congress in August 1987 as a replacement for the Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger,

Endeavour arrived at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on May 7,1991, piggy-backed on top of NASA’s new Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Endeavour was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18′” century British explorer James Cook, an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. Endeavour became the first Space Shuttle orbiter to use a drag chute during a landing — only one of many technical improvements made to Endeavour.


The shuttle and its six-man crew are bound for the International Space Station, where they will spend 16 days delivering spare supplies and an ambitious astrophysics experiment.

Endeavour’s main payload is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a $2 billion particle detector that will search for cosmic rays that might help unravel some of our most perplexing cosmic mysteries, such as what makes up the invisible dark matter thought to pervade the universe.

In addition to the particle detector, Endeavour is carrying a platform filled with 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) of backup supplies for the space station, which is scheduled to operate until at least 2020. The parts include a

  • a new tank of ammonia coolant,
  • equipment for the station’s Dextre robot, and
  • spare parts for the laboratory’s antenna communications system.


Space shuttle technicians working inside Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-2) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida powered down Endeavour, the youngest of the retired fleet’s orbiters, in May, 2012 as they moved forward with preparations for the winged spacecraft’s museum display.

This September, NASA will mount Endeavour on top of a modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft and ferry it to Los Angeles for its exhibit at the California Science Centre


Kepler is a NASA spacecraft equipped with a space observatory designed to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft is named in honour of German astronomer Johannes Kepler. The spacecraft was launched on March 7, 2009, with a planned mission lifetime of at least 3.5 years.


The Kepler Mission is specifically designed to survey the extended solar neighbourhood to detect and characterize hundreds of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone and provide fundamental progress and large leaps in our understanding of planetary systems. The results will yield a broad understanding of planetary formation, the frequency of formation, the structure of individual planetary systems and the generic characteristics of stars with terrestrial planets.


The scientific goal of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of dwarf (main-sequence) stars to:

  • Determine the frequency of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of spectral types of stars.
  • Determine the distributions of planet sizes and their orbital semi-major axes.
  • Estimate the frequency and orbital distribution of planets in multiple-stellar systems.
  • Determine the distributions of semi-major axis, albedo, size, mass, and density of short-period giant planets.
  • Identify additional members of each photometrically discovered planetary system using complementary techniques.
  • Determine the properties of those stars that harbour planetary systems.

The Kepler Mission supports the objectives of the Origin’s theme and directly contributes to the design of the Terrestrial Planet Finder as recommended in the NRC 2001 decadal survey.


On 2nd February 2011, the Kepler team announced the results from the data of May to September 2009. They found 1235 planetary candidates circling 997 host stars, more than twice the number of currently known exoplanets. The Kepler results included 68 planetary candidates of Earth-like size and 54 planetary candidates in the “habitable zone” of their star. There were previously only two planets thought to be in the “habitable zone”, so these new findings represent an enormous expansion of the potential number of “Goldilocks planets” (planets of the right temperature to support liquid water).

On 20th December 2011, the Kepler team announced the discovery of the first Earth-size exoplanets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-20.

In January 2012, an international team of astronomers reported that each star in the Milky Way Galaxy may host “on average…at least 1.6 planets”, suggesting that over 160 billion star-bound planets may exist in our galaxy alone. Kepler also recorded distant stellar super-flares, some of which are 10,000 times more powerful then the Carrington event. [The solar storm of 1859, also known as the 1859 Solar Superstorm, or the Carrington Event, was a powerful solar storm in 1859 during solar cycle 10. It produced the largest known solar flare, which was observed and recorded by Richard C. Carrington.] The superflares may be triggered by close-orbiting Jupiter-sized planets.


STS-132 was the most recent Space Shuttle mission of the NASA, and the last of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It was launched on 12th May 2010 with the primary payload Russian Rassvet Mini- Research Module, docked with the International Space Station on 16 May 2010 and returned to earth on 26 May 2010. This was Atlantis’ last mission and signals the end of its service life.

IN NEWS: STS-132 was initially scheduled to be the final flight of Atlantis, provided that the STS-335/STS-135 Launch On Need rescue mission was not flown. However, in February 2011, NASA declared that the final mission of Atlantis and of the Space Shuttle program, STS-135, would be flown regardless of the funding situation.


SELENE (Seienoiogical and Engineering Explorer), better known by its nickname Kaguya, is a lunar orbiter spacecraft of Japan. It contains two sub satellites Okina and Ouna. It was launched in September 2007. After successfully orbiting the moon for 1 year and 8 months, the main orbiter was intentionally crashed onto the lunar surface near Gill lunar crater in June 2009. It was a project of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The names of the orbiter and the subsatellites come from Japanese folklore.

OBJECTIVES: Its main objectives were:

  • To study the origins of the Moon and its geologic evolution,
  • obtain information about the lunar surface environment
  • make precise measurement of the moon’s gravity field.


SELENE was part of a renewed global interest in lunar exploration; it was “the largest lunar mission since the Apollo program”. It followed Japan’s first lunar probe, Hagoromo, launched in 1990. China launched its Chang’e 1 lunar explorer in October 2007, followed by India’s October 2008 launch of Chandrayaan-1 and the United States Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in June 2009. The United States, European countries (ESA), Russia, Japan, India, and China are planning future manned lunar exploration missions or Lunar outpost construction on the moon between 2018 and 2025.