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NASA's next Moon mission begins thermal vacuum test

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NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

WASHINGTON (BNS): NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has begun a five-week environmental testing in a thermal vacuum that simulates the harsh rigours of space.

NASA said that the spacecraft, built at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been lifted into a four-storey thermal vacuum chamber for testing.

“Once sealed in the chamber, the satellite will undergo a series of tests that simulate the space environment it will encounter when it orbits the Moon,” NASA said.

According to NASA, during the tests, its engineers will operate the spacecraft to check it is working as per the plan. “The project also will conduct mission simulations to further train and develop the team that will operate the spacecraft,” NASA said.

Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard said that this was an exciting time for the project. “Thermal vacuum testing is one of our major milestones. Not only are we checking out LRO in a test facility that most closely matches its final destination, but we are getting more 'hands-on' time operating LRO as we will see it next year at the Moon,” Peddie said.

NASA said that the orbiter would be carrying seven instruments to provide scientists with detailed maps of the lunar surface. These maps will enhance the understanding of the Moon's topography, lighting conditions, mineralogical composition and natural resources, the release said. “Information gleaned from LRO will be used to select safe landing sites, determine locations for future lunar outposts and help to mitigate radiation dangers to astronauts,” NASA added.

The orbiter is expected to be launched on April 24 aboard Atlas V rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To set the preparations in motion, the orbiter will be shipped to Florida early next year. “Accompanying the spacecraft will be the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, a mission that will impact the Moon's surface in its search for water ice,” NASA said.

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