NASA has confirmed that its LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) probe is back on track for lunar orbit after being temporarily left tumbling by a power surge which occurred shortly after its launch.
LADEE took off atop a US Air Force Minotaur V rocket on 11:27pm EDT on Friday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, and the probe was successfully transferred into a low orbit. LADEE will make a series of increasingly wide orbits around Earth before being kicked into a lunar orbit with an expected arrival date on next month.
The probe, which will analyze the lunar atmosphere and test out a new super-fast laser broadband communications system, was undergoing NASA’s first stage of diagnostics routines when the wheels used for stabilization and control shut down unexpectedly. Without these, the probe would be useless.
Checking showed a power surge had caused LADEE’s computer to shut down the wheels to avoid them over-revving. Engineers have now disabled the fail-safe system to regain control, and they will be “selectively re-enabled.”
“The LADEE spacecraft is healthy and communicating with mission operators,” said Pete Worden, NASA Ames center director, in a canned statement.
The reliability of LADEE is key to NASA’s future probe missions, since it’s the first to use a new modular construction system the agency is trying out. Rather than building each probe as a custom job, LADEE is made up of pre-prepared packages of payload, propulsion, and support systems, which are fitted together to suit the job.