Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lunar Mission Underway

I've seen nothing in the major media of Japan's successful launch Friday of it's lunar orbiter so some information on what's happening. The mission, steeped in scientific experiments is just the first of several planned from Asian nations, including China and India, which has set a lunar launches by the end of 2008. The U.S. also has unmanned orbiters set to launch by then as well.

The Japanese SELENE mission has many ambitions and details are offered at Spaceflight Now:

Two daughter satellites stowed aboard SELENE for the trip to the moon will be deployed at different points during the orbital maneuvers. One of the small satellites will be released in an orbit with an apolune of about 1,500 miles, while the other will separate at a lower orbital altitude of approximately 500 miles.

Called RSAT and VRAD, the eight-sided 110-pound satellites will work in tandem with the SELENE orbiter to probe the weak gravity field on the moon's far side for the first time. The small craft will also help study the lunar ionosphere by observing radio interference.

Officials expect SELENE to arrive in its operational orbit about 40 days after launch. A comprehensive two-month checkout of the mission's 15 science payloads is planned before the orbiter begins its observation campaign."

Meanwhile, it was announced Friday that Google is adding millions to a contest for lunar exploration, the Google Lunar X Prize:

The prize for reaching the moon and completing the basic tasks of roving and sending video and data will bring the winner $20 million, according to the contest rules. An additional $5 million would be awarded for other tasks that include roving more than 5,500 yards or sending back images of artifacts like lunar landers from the Apollo program."

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