Lockheed rockets NASA to moon

Lockheed Martin is playing a part in NASA’s plan to return humans to the surface of the moon by providing its Atlas V rocket to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.


Lockheed Martin is playing a part in NASA’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 Cape Canaveral using an Atlas V 401 configuration. This includes a single common core booster powered by the RD-180 engine system, providing around 4.4m Newtons of thrust at lift-off. The Atlas V 401 vehicle will also use a 4-metre fairing to protect the LRO spacecraft during the ascent through the earth’s atmosphere. Once the boost phase of flight is complete, the Centaur upper stage will perform two engine burns to place LRO into a lunar transfer trajectory.



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.