According to someone at NASA: “Early this morning (October 6), we fired LADEE’s main engine in a braking maneuver known as the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) burn.”
“This slowed the spacecraft’s velocity enough for it to be captured by the Moon’s gravity. This critical burn went flawlessly and LADEE is now in lunar orbit! Two more main engine burns, on October 9 and 12 will adjust LADEE’s trajectory, settling it into its commissioning orbit.”
Due to the shut down, 97% of NASA employees have been furloughed. NASA has around 18,000 employees and about 17,500 employees haven’t been at work since October 1, 2013.
The only NASA employees that are going to work are “essential” employees who are involved with the daily operations of the International Space Station and NASA security.
NASA’s lunar spacecraft LADEE was due to ignite its main engine and enter lunar orbit on Sunday morning, October 6. This critical moment in the mission, however, comes amidst a government shutdown that has seen nearly 97 percent of NASA staff furloughed and will consequently mean this key mission event will come with very little fanfare or coverage in the press due to the legal requirements of the shutdown.
During the government shut down, NASA websites and NASA TV have been turned off during the shutdown, and the space agency’s press office is also furloughed. So there will be a virtual news blackout and little public information released.
Sources, however, indicate that LADEE, which stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, and its mission are continuing because it was deemed “essential”, and a small team of engineers are working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California on the mission. The LADEE lunar orbit capture was scheduled to take place at 10:57 UTC on October 6, 2013, which is about 6:57 a.m. EDT.
LADEE blasted off into space on September 6, 2013, atop a five state Minotaur V rocket from a beachside launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The spacecraft will eventually fly in a very low science orbit of about 50 kilometers altitude above the moon, which will require considerable fuel to maintain. The duration of the science mission is approximately 100 days, and is limited by the amount of fuel needed to maneuver. LADEE is equipped with a trio of science instruments with the purpose of collecting data that will inform scientists about the ultra thing lunar atmosphere, environmental influences on lunar dust and conditions near the surface. The goal of the mission is to gain a thorough understanding of unknowns about the tenuous atmosphere, dust and surface interactions that will aid scientists in understanding other planetary bodies as well.
Update Feb 13, 2014
Earlier this month, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory successfully downlinked images of the moon and stars taken by onboard camera systems, known as star trackers. This is the first time the LADEE team commanded the spacecraft to send these pictures back to Earth.
The main job of a star tracker is to snap images of the surrounding star field so that the spacecraft can internally calculate its orientation in space. It completes this task many times per minute. The accuracy of each of LADEE’s instruments’ measurements depends on the star tracker calculating the precise orientation of the spacecraft.
“Star tracker cameras are actually not very good at taking ordinary images,” said Butler Hine LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “But they can sometimes provide exciting glimpses of the lunar terrain.”
Given the critical nature of its assignment, a star tracker doesn’t use ordinary cameras. Star trackers’ lenses have a wide-angle field of view in order to capture the night sky in a single frame.