NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL spacecraft, which launched last year dubbed Ebb and Flow, have completed their primary mission ahead of schedule. The primary mission for the spacecraft was to study the moon from its crust to the core. With the primary mission now complete, the twin spacecraft are preparing for an extended science operation that will start on August 30 and continue until December 3 of this year.
NASA says that the mission has gathered unprecedented detail and data on the inner structure and evolution of the moon. These details are expected to increase the knowledge of how our earth, and its rocky planetary neighbors inside the inner solar system developed. The spacecraft have operated around-the-clock for 89 days.
The orbit took the spacecraft over the lunar poles and data covering the entire surface of the moon has been collected three times. The spacecraft have also gathered data that allows scientists to create a high-resolution map of the moons gravitational field. The last data set for the primary mission the spacecraft was returned yesterday, and instruments were turned off at 1 PM Eastern. The goal of secondary extended mission is to take an even closer look at the moon's gravity field, and the spacecraft will be operating at the lowest altitude can be maintained during the extended mission.
Many of the measurement objectives were achieved from analysis of only half the primary mission data, which speaks volumes about the skill and dedication of our science and engineering teams," said Maria Zuber, principal investigator of GRAIL at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "While there is a great deal of work yet to be done to achieve the mission's science, it's energizing to realize that what we traveled from Earth to the moon for is right here in our hands."