Just two spaceships passing in the night: on Jan. 14 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) caught a glimpse of its younger sibling LADEE as it zipped 5.5 miles below it and captured it on camera, adding NASA’s latest lunar explorer to its ever-growing list of spacecraft spottings.
The image above, taken with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), shows the MINI Cooper-sized LADEE (pronounced “laddie,” not “lady”) as a short streak against the moon’s cratered surface. Because of the “pushbroom” method LROC uses to make images and the fact that both spacecraft were traveling very quickly at the time, LADEE appears elongated.
With the image adjusted to account for this, here’s how LADEE appeared to LRO (as compared to a rendering of the spacecraft in the same orientation):
Mission engineers were aware of the photo opportunity beforehand and were able to make sure that LRO was correctly positioned to take the shot.
As both spacecraft are traveling around 3,500 mph — but in perpendicular orbits — LADEE was only in the LROC narrow-angle camera’s field of view for 1.35 milliseconds. Most impressive!
Just last month, the LROC imaged China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer launched aboard a Minotaur V rocket on Sept. 6, 2013, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Its mission is to study the effects of lunar dust on the thin, tenuous atmosphere of the Moon. To date LADEE has traveled nearly 11 million miles.
LRO launched aboard an Atlas V on June 18, 2009, from Cape Canaveral AFB. It is in a polar mapping orbit, performing investigations designed to facilitate a human return to the Moon.