A Look Back at LADEE

April 18th marks 10 years since the NASA LADEE mission successfully ended with an impact to the lunar surface! The NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) led this mission, which carried three instrument payloads and one tech demo – the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration. The mission operated successfully through its planned science phase of 100 days and an extended mission phase of 45 days, with the last few weeks spent operating at an extremely low altitude to enhance science collection.

SEE’s Lisa Policastri served as the Orbit Determination Lead throughout all phases of mission development and mission operations, including during the final shift on console at the ARC multi-mission operations center when LADEE impacted the Moon at the Sundman V crater rim at a velocity of 3,600 miles per hour.

The image below, from our 2014 archives, shows our model of LADEE’s position in orbit (red line) with the uncertainty model (red ellipsoid) just before impact at the Sundman V Crater ridge on this day 10 years ago.

This image from our 2014 archives depicts our model of LADEE’s orbit (red line), along with the uncertainty model (red ellipsoid), just before impact at the Sundman V Crater ridge, exactly 10 years ago today.

Later in 2014, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera confirmed the location of LADEE’s impact.

This shows LADDEE’s impact site, near the Sundman V Crater.
This video shows the last orbit of LADEE up to impact.

NASA’s 2014 article titled “NASA’s LRO Spacecraft Captures Images of LADEE’s Impact Crater” states, ” ‘The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team recently developed a new computer tool to search Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) before and after image pairs for new craters, the LADEE impact event provided a fun test,’ said Mark Robinson, LROC principal investigator from Arizona State University in Tempe. ‘As it turns there were several small surface changes found in the predicted area of the impact, the biggest and most distinctive was within 968 feet (295 meters) of the spot estimated by the LADEE operations team. What fun!’ ”

In addition to Lisa, many current SEE team members were heavily involved in the LADEE mission’s success, including Mike Loucks, John Carrico, Craig Nickel, Alisa Hawkins, and Ryan Lebois. The entire LADEE mission operations team was a truly amazing group! No one slept much during those final days – everyone relied on strong teamwork and lots of caffeine and snacks!

Lisa Policastri on the Day of the LADEE Impact: April 18, 2014
Lisa Policastri on the Day of the LADEE Impact: April 18, 2014

To learn more about the mission’s completion, check out NASA’s article, “NASA Completes LADEE Mission with Planned Impact on Moon’s Surface.”

The Double Lunar Swingby

Today we have been reflecting on an impactful experience that happened on this day, March 14th, in 2008!

After a failure of its Briz-M upper stage shortly after launch on March 14, 2008, the AMC-14 communications satellite was left stranded in an inclined geostationary transfer orbit. John Carrico and Mike Loucks developed a recovery trajectory to deliver the spacecraft to its originally intended orbit.

Changing the angle between a spacecraft’s orbit plane and the equator is expensive in terms of propellant. Since AMC-14 was stranded near an inclination of 52 degrees, propellant could be conserved by boosting the apogee of the spacecraft’s orbit out to lunar distance.

Two lunar encounters (a “double lunar swingby”) reduced the inclination to 0 degrees (an equatorial orbit) and raised perigee to GEO altitude. Perhaps counterintuitively, the propellant required for these large changes in altitude was less than that required to reduce inclination propulsively.

Ultimately, AMC-14 did not utilize a double-lunar swingby trajectory to reach GEO. Instead, a series of low-thrust maneuvers were performed to raise orbit and eventually reach an inclined, geosynchronous orbit.

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The SEE team has studied the use of double lunar swingby trajectories for other applications, including transferring a satellite from a lunar rideshare to GEO. Stephen West presented this work at last year’s Spaceflight Mechanics Meeting. Read his paper, entitled, “Double Lunar Swingby Trajectories to Near-Geostationary Orbit.”

Double lunar swingbys are one of the “tools” in the astrogator’s toolbox. For resource constrained missions, lunar gravity assists can enable large orbit changes while conserving propellant. Every day, the SEE team applies techniques like this to solve challenging mission design problems!

Remembering Clementine’s Lunar Orbit Insertion

30 years ago yesterday, the Deep Space Program Science Experiment spacecraft, dubbed “Clementine,” entered lunar orbit after executing the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) maneuver to place it into a 426.9 km x 5485.1 km orbit, with an orbit period of 8 hours.

Originally launched on a Titan II(23)G rocket from Vandenberg Air force Base launch site SLC-4W on January 25, 1994, the spacecraft used an R-4D 490 Newton engine to perform the insertion. The R4D used bipropellant hydrazine (N2O4/MMH) with an Isp of 310 sec.

The LOI maneuver was planned using the software tool “Swingby” at Goddard Space Flight Center. SEE founder, Astrogator John Carrico, was on the team that both developed Swingby and used it for maneuver planning on the Clementine mission. Swingby eventually evolved into the STK/Astrogator trajectory planning tool.

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Dr. Worden was Director of NASA Ames during both the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Missions. LCROSS launched in 2009. LADEE launched in 2013. The SEE team supported both of these missions.

Happy 30th to Clementine!

30 years ago today, the Deep Space Program Science Experiment, dubbed “Clementine,” ignited its Star-37FM solid rocket motor to leave low Earth orbit and embark on a 2.5 phasing loop trajectory to lunar orbit. SEE’s CTO, Astrogator John Carrico, was in the frozen flight dynamics facility at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, keeping a watchful eye on the spacecraft’s trajectory. Clementine returned the United States to lunar orbit after a two-decade absence and ignited a new era of lunar exploration.

Clementine was developed as a unique Department of Defense program to demonstrate dual-use technology in deep space. The mission went from inception to launch in about 22 months for a total cost of $75M. The Naval Research Laboratory designed, built, and operated the spacecraft, turning to the Flight Dynamics Division at NASA Goddard for support during the critical lunar transfer and orbit insertion phases of the mission.

At NASA Goddard, John Carrico was on the team developing Swingby, a trajectory design application tailored for multi-gravitational trajectories. While previously employed for pre-launch analyses on other deep space missions, Clementine was Swingby’s opportunity to support operational trajectory planning and re-design. When a battery anomaly threatened to strand Clementine in LEO, Swingby proved its worth. It enabled the flight dynamics team to deliver over 50 maneuver plans over a span of 8.5 days, often with as little as 12 hours lead time.

Eventually, Swingby evolved into the highly capable Astrogator trajectory planning tool included in AGI STK. The phasing loop lunar transfer pioneered by Clementine enabled subsequent small lunar missions, like NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, SpaceIL’s Beresheet, and Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. Science data returned by Clementine indicated the presence of water ice at the Moon’s South Pole.

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Join all of us here at The Astrogator’s Guild as we celebrate the 30 year anniversary of Clementine’s journey to the Moon and look forward to the next 30 years of bold, inspiring lunar exploration.