University of Colorado Boulder designs Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer

BOULDER, Colo. - The University of Colorado Boulder has designed an instrument to study moon dust.

The $6million instrument will be launched on a mission to moon on Friday, Sept. 6, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The mission, known as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will orbit the moon to better understand its tenuous atmosphere and whether dust particles are being lofted high off its surface.

It will take about a month for the instrument to reach the moon and another month to enter the proper elliptical orbit and to commission the instruments, CU officials said.

"We think our instrument can help answer some important questions related to the presence and transport of dust in the lunar atmosphere," said CU-Boulder physics Professor Mihaly Horanyi of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

About the size of a small toaster oven, the LADEE instrument will be able to chart the existence, size and individual velocities of tiny dust particles as small as 0.6 microns in diameter. 

Knowing more about the behavior of lunar dust could be of use for future human expeditions to the moon, including potential colonization efforts. Learning more about lunar dust also might help scientists better understand dust on other moons in the solar system -- like Phobos and Deimos that orbit Mars – that have been suggested by some as possible initial landing posts for crewed missions headed to the Red Planet, officials said.

LADEE also is carrying an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer, a neutral mass spectrometer and a lunar laser communications demonstration.