is playing a part inNASA
’s plan to return humans to the surface of the moon by providing its Atlas V rocket to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission.
The mission will be launched from
Atlas will launch LRO in the autumn of 2008, along with a secondary payload called the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). Following delivery of LRO to its required lunar transfer orbit, the Centaur upper stage will perform a series of manoeuvres to place LCROSS into a separate trajectory that will result in lunar impact.
LRO will arrive at the moon three to five days after launch. From its mapping orbit at an altitude of 50km above the surface, it will begin its one-year mission to gather data specifically targeted at preparing for future human exploration on the lunar surface.
Approximately three months after launch, the depleted Centaur upper stage will be guided to an impact near the lunar South Pole, and LCROSS will analyse the resulting plume to determine the chemical composition of the lunar surface material. LCROSS will impact the moon several minutes after Centaur, and the combined plume will be observed by other telescopes.