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The Next US Moonshot Will Launch From Virginia 92

As reported by the Washington Post, a U.S. spacecraft headed for the moon (to circle it, though, not to land) is to be launched for the first time from the facility at Virginia's Wallops Island. If you'll be in the D.C. area on the night of September 6 and the weather cooperates enough for a launch, it should be worth staying up for. "The robotic mission is to collect detailed information about the moon's thin atmosphere. Sometimes thought to be nonexistent, the lunar atmosphere has been described as extremely tenuous and fragile, but present. According to the space agency, the launch will record many firsts. One will be the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the Virginia facility. It also will be the first flight for the Minotaur V rocket, NASA said. NASA said the five-stage Air Force rocket is an excess ballistic missile that was transformed into a space-launch vehicle. It will boost the space probe into position for it to reach lunar orbit." Though the satellite is NASA's, the launch will be controlled by Orbital Sciences.
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The Next US Moonshot Will Launch From Virginia

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  • Uhm... why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CaptSlaq ( 1491233 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @08:29AM (#44675611)
    I thought the physics of this kind of stuff favored being closer to the equator? Why would you move north of Canaveral?
    • Re:Uhm... why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @08:31AM (#44675621)
      Because the senator from Virginia wants you to.
      • Its hillarious that you got modded +5 for a statement that is, according to all subsequent comments, horribly off base: apparently this facility has long been in use, well before the terms of the current slate of senators.

        • Unlike others, I never wrote that the Wallop's Island facility was new. That was you, reading into my post text a message I never put in. All I said, in a pithy way, was that I suspect political factors could explain the choice of launch site. A launch operation is a big, expensive endeavor, that provides {pork, jobs} for the state where it occurs.
          • by Megane ( 129182 )
            Or maybe KSC is just getting too busy. I think SpaceX has the right idea with Boca Chica.
      • Of course they want it close to DC. Because NASA has a problem with management. So we will have it lead by People who got their jobs in a Big Popularity Contest, and their job is dependent on winning the next one. That will lead to good management.

    • I wondered the same thing. further there's a whole cadre of instrumentation that needs to be built up to create a valid launch range, and we already have that, so why spend all that money on something closer to D.C.? Is it the country's vision that every state needs its own launch pad?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Since there have been 16,000 launches since 1945 from the facility, I would imagine they are already pretty well instrumented.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wallops has been in operations since well before the 60's and is fully equipped and staffed launch facility.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wallops Island [] is where the US rocket program started [].

      • Why not? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @08:58AM (#44675769)

        I wondered the same thing. further there's a whole cadre of instrumentation that needs to be built up to create a valid launch range, and we already have that, so why spend all that money on something closer to D.C.?

        Wallops Flight Facility is already heavily instrumented and has been in operation for over 50 years. There have been 16,000 launches from that facility including orbital launches.

        Now as for why they are doing this particular mission at WFF instead of Canaveral, I have no idea. Could be an effort by NASA to cater to a wider swath of congress. Could be military related in some way. Might be that the resources for that particular mission were more conveniently located there. I'm sure there is a reason but it isn't obvious what that reason might be.

        • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @09:20AM (#44675947)

          Cape canaveral air station is rented property owned by the Air Force. Kodiac, Wallops, and White Sands are all owned by NASA, additionally it is located much closer to Orbital's headquarters in Baltimore.

        • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by PhloppyPhallus ( 250291 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @11:48AM (#44677115)

          Orbital Sciences is running the mission--for whatever reason, they've set up shop just outside Wallops and have been spending quite a bit of time and money getting one of the pads at Wallops set up for Minotaur and Antares launches. It could be because it's closer to their manufacturing facilities, because they've been launch at WFF with smaller rockets many years, because the costs of using the pad and facilities at WFF are cheaper than the big pads at KSC, or whatever; but the point is that Orbital is running the mission and almost certainly chose to use WFF themselves. While it's true they might get better performance launching from KSC, it would shock me if WFF wasn't much cheaper to run out of. But even if it weren't, Orbital has invested in their operations at Wallops and is very unlikely move everything down to Florida now. I don't know what the deal is here, but in this case I suspect it's just a business decision by Orbital and nothing more sinister.

    • Why would you move north of Canaveral?

      Wild guess: Congressman Scott Rigell (R VA-02) needed to shore up votes in his district, and won the political battle with Bill Posey (R FL-08).

    • I thought the physics of this kind of stuff favored being closer to the equator? Why would you move north of Canaveral?

      Hmm. I thought that translunar injection is more favorable from higher-inclined orbits, since you avoid the worst parts of the radiation belts. The non-need to launch to an orbit close to equatorial then gives you other launch sites as alternatives to Florida.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @08:31AM (#44675619)

    You have to wonder how much that atmosphere was effected by debris still up there from Deep Impact, Chandrayaan-1's Moon Impact Probe, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's centaur upper stage impacts.

    Too bad they didn't do a before-and-after of this particular mission.

  • Did they say it was a FIVE-stage rocket? Yes, apparently the Minotaur V [] has five stages. Makes sense, I guess, if you want to get a 600kg payload the moon, but it's the first time I've heard that phrase, at least not from NASA. Just strikes me as weird.

    • Re:Dayum! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @09:28AM (#44676013)

      Minotaur V is a very Kerbal design. Jury-rigging multiple solid stages together. Normally this kind of flight would use a high performance liquid upper stage capable of multiple restarts and the design makes very little sense, except when you have some never-needed and phased-out ICBMs hanging around waiting for disposal AND you have a long-running relationship with the company that makes solid rockets (ATK) for ICBMs and for small upper stages.... Then the total cost of doing it like this becomes quite economical and, well, better use the ICBMs like this than to just scrap 'em.

      First three stages = LGM-118A Peacekeeper ICBM. And since those three stages won't get you there just yet (Peacekeeper being designed for lobbing nukes to other side of the world rather than orbiting stuff), you need an upper stage on top of the three stages... and because ATK's biggest one can't do the trick, you stack two of them in slightly different sizes... So, bam, 5 stages.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For those of you on the east coast of the US.

    LADEE Launch Visibility []

  • Suits: Hello. We're from the EPA. Afraid your spaceflight launch will need to be cancelled indefinitely. Apparently it will be coming in contact with the moon's atmosphere and our public sources from Slashdot and elsewhere have identified it as being, "extremely tenuous and fragile".

    NASA: But it's the moon! It's not earth!

    Suits: [smiles] Now. Now. You knew this was going to happen. Just because it's the moon doesn't mean that the regulatory arms of the US government can't reach. If your r

    • by Anonymous Coward

      le edgy 2k. The EPA is to blame for us not posting from Pluto amirite! It's totally the environmentalists' fault that the space program is in shambles.

      Let me guess, you're one of those Global climate change deniers too, eh, mr. Strawman?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yes yes environmentalists are behind all the worlds problems. Its ok. Calm down. You can QQ now.
  • At least that's their address...I pass it all the time in Dulles, VA. [] :)

APL hackers do it in the quad.