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viernes, 26 de junio de 2009

LRO-LCROSS Webcast







George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer:

The moon, our nearest celestial neighbor, has intrigued and inspired us since the dawn of humanity.

During the Apollo Program, 12 astronauts landed on its cold and cratered surface. But they couldn't stay.

Now, NASA's Constellation Program begins a new journey: to live and work on the moon, setting the stage for future, long-duration human exploration.

Today, two spacecraft scouts are poised to lift off together aboard a powerful Atlas V rocket on the first launch of this new era.

They are the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LRO and LCROSS.

One rocket. One destination. Two critical missions.

Together, they're helping us pave the way back to the moon.

(Music)

Welcome to the show. I'm your host, George Diller.

I'm here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, inside the Apollo Saturn V Center. Behind me is an actual, massive, 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket just like those that boosted the Apollo astronauts on America's first human missions to the moon.

Today, NASA is preparing to return to the moon, beginning with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. This upcoming launch aboard an Atlas V rocket is the critical first step in the new Constellation Program.

On today's show, we're going to take you inside both of these exciting missions, and find out what it takes to launch two spacecraft at once.

Our first guest is Cathy Peddie, deputy project manager for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. She stopped by the NASA Direct studio to give us the inside story on this moon-mapping mission.

Cathy Peddie/LRO Deputy Project Manager:
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project, or LRO's main goal, is we're really the first mission, the first step that NASA is taking back to exploring our universe. And so what we really need to do is have a reconnaissance mission, you know, get more data. Now one of the things that we want to do is go back to the moon.

You know, we've been there before. We have really awesome data sets from our previous missions, from the Apollo era to the other spacecraft that have gone. So we want to build upon those data sets that we already have. And most of those data sets really focused on the equatorial region of the moon. So now we want to go back and say, 'Hey, let's map the entire moon.' So have more of a global perspective, or a comprehensive atlas of the moon. And help whoever wants to join us in exploring our universe, or taking that next step back they need to have a more comprehensive atlas of the moon so that they know where to go, what to do, what to expect, that kind of thing. Help them out. We're like a scout mission for the exploration.

Roughly a couple days after we launch, we will begin what we call the lunar orbit insertion burn. And that burn will help us, or help the moon and us, get captured by the moon. And so, what happens during that burn is LRO starts to get closer to the moon and the moon will capture LRO. And once we have that confirmation that the moon has captured us, we call that lunar acquisition. And after we have lunar acquisition for, and we’re sure that we have a stable orbit, then we will begin a series of burns that are roughly a day apart from each other. A series of four or five burns that begin to lower LRO into her final orbit, which is roughly 50 kilometers above the moon, or 31 miles. And that's LRO's polar orbiting orbit where we lower the spacecraft low enough so that the instruments can focus on the surface of the moon and begin the data collection that is what our mission is all about to create that comprehensive atlas of the moon.

Now, an interesting offshoot to our data is that our data will also be made available to Google Moon so that anyone that has access to the Web or Google will be able to punch in, I don’t know, like Shackleton crater, and be able to see all the cool data from LRO pop up right on their own personal computers at home.

At NASA we're all about exploring and pushing our knowledge across the boundaries. And LRO, even though taking us back to the moon where we've been before there's a lot about our moon that we don’t know, and a lot about our moon that we want to use as we begin to look out into the universe and decide, you know, where we want to go next. So having a reconnaissance, or a scout mission, that begins to take us out is a perfect fit into what NASA's all about. And what people like me, who've dreamed about working for NASA have always wanted to do. You know, explore, look out beyond who and what we are today. And LRO is the perfect fit for that type of vision for all of us.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer:
Now that we know what to expect from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we turn our attention to its sister payload the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. Its goal is to hunt for evidence of water ice using a hard-hitting method. Dr. Kimberly Ennico, LCROSS payload specialist, explains.

Dr. Kimberly Ennico/LCROSS Payload Specialist:
LCROSS mission has two impact events. The first is the upper stage of the launch vehicle that we take with us on our four-month mission into space. And we separate from it, and its traveling to hit the moon at 5,600 mph.It's going to impact one of these lunar, permanently-shadowed basins of a crater on the lunar poles. And it's going to hit a particular place. It's going to hit a place on the moon where we think there's water. Scientists who believe that there is water on the moon don't know if it's smooth or chunky-peanut butter type. So where you hit is important. The secondary impact is the LCROSS payload, which will impact somewhere between 3 to 5 kilometers away from the first impact. So we're going to hit another part of that crater. We've targeted this crater because it's got a strong hydrogen concentration. We're going to sample two parts of this crater. And so the two impact events will tell us something about the distribution of this hydrogen concentration or perhaps the distribution of water, if the hydrogen is in water.

The live images of our, what we're taking with our science payload as we're going into the surface during the last four minutes of the mission, which is 600 kilometers down to the surface, will be streamed live on a public channel.

LCROSS is important because it provides us a way to confirm the presence or absence of water ice at a particular location on the lunar pole. If there's water ice there, or water in some form, it means that for future missions to the moon and perhaps beyond, there's an in situ, a resource that's there. Resources on the surface of that planet, you don't need to bring it with you. So for the human species, in terms of exploring the rest of the solar system, so getting out of low Earth orbit and we need water with us if we can find a resource of water on the moon, that will be an amazing step forward and a great resource to take advantage of in a very resource-limited place.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer:
Both LRO and LCROSS need a successful launch in order to begin their missions. Our next guest is an integral part in getting these spacecraft and many others off the ground. Chuck Tatro is a mission manager in NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center. He's going to tell us about the unique challenges of this two-for-one launch.

Chuck Tatro/Launch Services Program Mission Manager: Hello, my name is Chuck Tatro and I'm a mission manager for NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center.

We're at the Vertical Integration Facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is where we will assemble the Atlas V rocket that will send the LRO and LCROSS spacecraft on their journey to the moon.

As a mission manager, my job is to lead the effort to bring a new spacecraft and launch vehicle together to where they're ready to launch. About three months before launch, the spacecraft and launch vehicle components arrive at the launch site for final testing. About two months before launch, the rocket components are erected on the launch platform and filled with cryogenic fluids for a wet dress rehearsal. About two weeks before launch, the spacecraft is brought out here to the Vertical Integration Facility and stacked on the rocket. At about one week before launch we do a launch countdown rehearsal, so the team can practice for countdown.

In a dual payload flow, both spacecraft have their own intricate and intimate requirements that are separate, and may not play together nicely with the other spacecraft. For example, contamination, orbital requirements. Because LCROSS is going to impact the moon and LRO is going to go in orbit around the moon, we need to make sure that one doesn't adversely impact the other.

The first challenge on this mission is the fact that the Centaur second stage will remain attached to the LCROSS spacecraft after it does its normal job of delivering LRO and LCROSS on their journey to the moon. LCROSS then will command the Centaur stage for an impact into the lunar surface. The second challenge is that the orbit requirements for each spacecraft are complex. This narrows the daily launch window that we have to launch this mission. The third challenge is that this is NASA's first step in our return to the moon, so there's a lot of public awareness and increased interest in this mission. We want to make sure that this mission is launched safely and successfully.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer:
That's our show. To our guests Cathy Peddie, Kim Ennico and Chuck Tatro thanks for giving us an insider's view of these two missions.

We also thank all of you for joining us for today's webcast.

Be sure to join us on launch day for the liftoff of the Atlas V rocket carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. You can follow the countdown on NASA TV and on each mission's Web site, at www.nasa.gov/lro and www.nasa.gov/lcross.

From Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I'm George Diller.