NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) has ceased to be. Controllers confirmed on Friday that the probe impacted on the Moon’s far side following the 28 day extension to its 100 day primary mission.
LADEE was launched in September to investigate the almost non existent atmosphere of the moon but also carried a demonstrator of a laser based communication system which is hoped could one day replace radio as a method of communication, especially if manned missions to an asteroid beyond lunar orbit and eventually Mars are to go ahead. The best demonstration was the transmission of the Mona Lisa to the Lunar reconnaissance orbiter in January 2013.
The laser-based communication system worked wonderfully, says team member Mihaly Horanyi at the University of Colorado, Boulder.”We had a really high rate of data transmission. You could have watched Netflix on the moon if you wanted to.”
LADEE’s primary mission though was the atmosphere. The main discovery that the moon has a thin layer of dust encircling it caused by micrometeorite impacts confirmed what was suspected. However it still couldn’t explain what caused the mysterious rays seen by Apollo astronauts just before sunrise or sunset
While this doesn’t mean they don’t exist it just demonstrated the limitations of the orbiters detectors. However the information gathered by the craft will have real impacts on NASA’s future human spaceflight plans.
Over the next few days and weeks the LRO will be trying to find the impact site to see what remains. Although managers believe the spacecraft has vapourised due to the speeds it was travelling.