NASA launched a couple new spacecraft over the weekend to that are headed to the moon to do some exploring. The GRAIL spacecraft were built by Lockheed Martin and launched on Saturday from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II heavy rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance. The two robotic spacecraft will be used to map the gravitational field of the moon in unprecedented detail. The data will then be used to determine the lunar interior from crust to core to help scientists understand the evolution of the moon.
The two GRAIL spacecraft are almost identical and signals from both spacecraft were received by mission operators shortly after they separated from the rocket. Both craft successfully deployed their solar arrays for power. The craft will arrive at the moon a day apart even though they launched on the same day. GRAIL-A will arrive on December 31, 2011 with GRAIL-B arriving January 1, 2012.
The spacecraft will orbit 34 miles above the moon's surface and the science phase will last 82-days. It appears that the launch went off without a hitch. I wonder if the ships will be able to determine if the moon has large caverns underground as has been suspected by some. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently took some very detailed photos of the Apollo mission landing sites on the moon.
“This morning’s launch was very exciting and the ULA Delta II put us on a perfect trajectory,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of Sensing and Exploration Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “Our team is now focused on performing a detailed series of checkouts and calibrations to characterize the performance of both spacecraft.”