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Emily LakdawallaDecember 26, 2008

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a BIG step closer to launch

Here's another odd-or-end: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has successfully completed its thermal vacuum testing. That's the step in the development of a space mission after they've completed the spacecraft's assembly, when they run the whole thing through a battery of tests to see if it will hold up to the rigors of launch and deep-space operations. A NASA press release quotes LRO mission system engineer Dave Everett as saying "We have cooked LRO, frozen it, shaken it, and blasted it with electromagnetic waves, and still it operates. We have performed more than 2,500 hours of powered testing since January, more than 600 of that in vacuum."

The "cooking and freezing" part is to simulate the temperature extremes in space. You may know that space is cold, but it's also hot -- expose a spacecraft to direct solar rays when there's no air to conduct heat away (or, when the wind blows, advect it away) and you get a hot spacecraft quickly; an orbiting craft gets extra cooked by more sunlight reflecting off the surface. The "shaking" part is all about what happens when you strap sensitive electronics onto the tip of an enormous pile of explosives and set it alight (I'm talking about its launch, on April 24).

So the news is that Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is basically ready to be shipped to the Cape. This -- along with a companion mission, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite -- will be the last launch in the new generation of lunar science missions that caused The Planetary Society to declare the start of the International Lunar Decade.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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Emily Lakdwalla
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