Technicians at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., install a heater cage around NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory sitting in the base of the thermal-vacuum chamber, in order to simulate the hot and cold extremes the observatory will experience during the mission. Image credit: NASA/Ames
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory recently completed the Thermal-Vacuum (TVAC) phase of environmental testing at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. During the TVAC environmental testing phase, LADEE underwent a variety of rigorous tests that simulate the full range of extreme temperatures and vacuum the spacecraft will experience during the course of its mission. The successful completion of this phase of testing means NASA engineers are confident that LADEE will be able to operate in the harsh conditions of space.
Previous mechanical tests – including acoustic, vibration and shock - confirmed the LADEE Observatory is able to withstand the loud, shaking launch conditions the spacecraft must endure to reach orbit.
Now that the TVAC tests are complete, engineers will test LADEE's radio communication system to ensure it is compatible with NASA's Near-Earth and Deep Space Communication Networks. To perform these communications tests, equipment will be brought to NASA Ames and connected to the spacecraft to exercise the communications modes that will be used during the mission. It is important to test the LADEE communications system with both communication networks prior to launch, so that the Mission Operations Team at NASA Ames can prepare for the initial contact with the spacecraft.
After LADEE separates from the upper stage of the Minotaur V launch vehicle, the spacecraft will power on. At that time, the Mission Operations Team at NASA Ames will use the Near-Earth Space network to make initial contact with LADEE. After initial contact, the team will establish positive control of the spacecraft so that they can maneuver LADEE into a phasing orbit that will take it to the moon.
LADEE will loop around Earth to gradually raise its orbit and position so that it can fire its engines and enter lunar orbit. During the trajectory maneuvers on its way to the moon, LADEE will transmit to NASA's Deep Space Network ground stations located around the globe. LADEE also will use this network to send science data back to Earth during the mission's science phase.
Once the communications compatibility tests are complete, the LADEE observatory will undergo its final Comprehensive Performance Test to confirm nothing significant has changed during the Mechanical, TVAC, and Communications testing.