LADEE is a 160-day robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about its delicate atmosphere. Additionally, it will monitor conditions near the moon's surface and how its environment affects lunar dust. The 844-pound spacecraft lifted off on the U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket -- the first to do so. It was also the first deep space mission to take off from the Wallops Flight Facility.
The spacecraft's science payload consists of three science instruments: an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer for determining the composition of the lunar atmosphere, a neutral mass spectrometer for measuring variations in the lunar atmosphere, and a lunar dust experiment that will collect and analyze samples of lunar dust particles.
[ For more on NASA's upcoming missions, see NASA's Next 5 Missions, Explored. ]
While in space, LADEE will also perform a technology demo called Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD). It will experiment with using lasers instead of radio waves to achieve broadband speeds when communicating with Earth. NASA's high-data-rate laser communication system may exhibit rates six times greater than today's advanced radio communication systems.
The LADEE mission is also the first by NASA to take advantage of the Facebook's photo-sharing social media website, Instagram, to promote Friday's launch. NASA has been among the most active of federal agencies to use social media to interact with the public. The space agency joined Instagram on Sept. 6 to post photos of the LADEE mission.
The initial images included one taken in July 1969 from Apollo 11, displaying the Earth rising over the moon. The other showed the moon's surface in detail, captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's (LRO) wide-angle camera. NASA later updated Instagram with images from the actual launch, and has since started including other missions and projects.
NASA said it will continue to use Instagram to post images and videos from past and present, encompassing aeronautics, astrophysics, Earth science and human spaceflight. While this is the first official NASA account, the agency's Goddard Spaceflight Center and Ames Research Center already have a presence on Instagram. NASA's existing social media portfolio includes Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, Foursquare and Reddit, among others.
While LADEE had no issues with liftoff, it experienced a glitch just moments after separating from the Minotaur launch vehicle, when LADEE's onboard computer shut down the reaction wheels that are used to position and stabilize the spacecraft. NASA confirmed on Sept. 7 that the reaction wheels were brought back online and that LADEE had reached a safe-mode profile.
"The reaction wheel issue noted soon after launch was resolved a few hours later. The LADEE spacecraft is healthy and communicating with mission operators," NASA Ames Research Center director S. Pete Worden said in a written statement.