WALLOPS RANGE, Va. – “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” said John F. Kennedy in 1962. This iconic statement rings true today as the RMMO supported a first-ever mission at the Wallops Range – an unmanned mission to Earth’s only natural satellite.
Aboard a Minotaur V expendable launch vehicle, the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Experiment – better known as LADEE – lifted off from Pad 0B at the Wallops Range Sept. 6, 2013. After a near-flawless count and with perfect weather conditions, LADEE soared into a clear, beautiful sky on the first minute of the launch window. This was the first-ever interplanetary mission on the firstever Minotaur V launched from Wallops Flight Facility. LADEE was sent to the moon to gather information about the fragile lunar atmosphere before further exploration disturbs it.
This ground-breaking feat was the culmination of years of effort from multiple agencies across the country. Here at Wallops, RMMO provided Range support not only locally, but also from downrange tracking sites at Coquina, N.C., and Bermuda. These off-axis sites provided coverage as the vehicle moved downrange, ensuring that critical data during the fly-out was received and recorded at Wallops. RMMO also supported several prelaunch tests, performed system checks, and worked closely with Range users to thoroughly verify readiness to launch.
Beyond the launch itself, the LADEE project spurred major upgrades to Wallops Range facilities. The two most notable were the transformation of Building U-40 to a Launch Control Center (LCC) and the conversion of Building V-55 from a fueling facility to an ISO-certified clean room. This was a base-wide effort involving several groups which required close coordination by RMMO project management.
With the usual LCC not available for use at Building W-20, the LADEE team had to determine a new location. Given that U-40 had been used as a LCC several years ago and still had some of the infrastructure, it seemed a logical choice. The LADEE requirements manager worked closely with the project lead and several entities at Wallops to ensure each of the building’s requirements were met.
An even bigger challenge was faced in converting the V-55 Spacecraft Fueling Facility (SFF) into a clean room capable of processing the LADEE spacecraft. This building presented several challenges given that it was set back in the woods – making “critter control” difficult at best. The RMMO project manager worked closely with NASA’s Code 500 engineering personnel who took the lead on updating this facility. In the end, the LADEE spacecraft was provided a safe and clean temporary home while it underwent final processing for its journey to the moon.
Many other Range services were required, such as meteorological operations, command and control and other services. This mission also included collaboration between the Optical Systems Group from RMMO and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. RMMO personnel took the lead to coordinate supplemental support which allowed the customer bonus video data for future evaluation.
In the end, the LADEE mission was a great success for the entire Wallops Range team and especially for RMMO. This launch could help pave the way for future interplanetary missions from Wallops Range and help usher in a new era of exploration to the moon and beyond.