This is how you prepare an observatory for space

Thu, 09/05/2013 - 4:27pm
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

 When you think about testing, you’re probably picturing a bench with the component and a few related tools. However, when you work for NASA and you’re testing an observatory for space, it’s a little bit of a different situation. Basically, imagine doing testing for the harshest environment you can imagine, on a machine the size of a small car.

This is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, to its friends), which is being prepared for its launch on September 6. As you can imagine, the word harsh doesn’t completely do justice to the environment into which this spacecraft is being sent and engineers need to ensure that LADEE is as prepared for the extremes as possible.  Courtesy of NASA

Here, LADEE is being tested to make sure it is balanced for flight. It is mounted on a spin table—both dry and after being loaded up with fuel, oxidizer and pressurant—and rotated at approximately one revolution per second. The blurring in the photo is indicative of just how rough a ride the test is for the craft. The team tests the craft both “dry” and “wet” (with fuel) to ensure that the balance is the same.

But that’s not all, earlier in the day the craft had its propulsion system inspected for leaks and had all solar panels inspected and replaced, if necessary. Plus, engineers ran some final electrical tests and made sure nothing on LADEE was damaged when it was shipped to the launch site.

 Its mission—should it choose to accept—is to gather information about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere while orbiting the moon. Researchers also want to know if “dust is being lofted into the lunar sky,” according to NASA.

LADEE, having passed all of its rigorous testing, is set to be launched at 11:27 pm on Friday--during a 5-day launch window--from Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island in Virginia. The observatory is getting a ride from the Air Force’s Minotaur V Rocket, leaving from pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.



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