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LCROSS will impact the moon some 90 days following its launch in the search for water ice or hydrated minerals that could sustain human habitation. Scientists will also study the impact and the debris it generates to learn more about the moon’s geology and the basic formation processes of planets, moons and other celestial bodies.
This spacecraft represents a new generation of low-cost, fast-development missions that use commercial off-the-shelf components. The LCROSS was built, integrated, and tested by Northrop Grumman in just 26 months for NASA Ames Research Center on a $56 million contract.
“LCROSS delivers a high science value per dollar,” said Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced Concepts for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. “With its versatile, fast, and cost-efficient architecture, the LCROSS spacecraft serves as a pathfinder for future low-cost Earth and space science missions.”
This is the first mission to use an Expanded Evolved Launch Vehicle secondary payload adaptor as the primary structure for a fully-functioning, free-flying spacecraft. The LCROSS spacecraft will be inserted between the primary payload, LRO, and its launch vehicle during payload integration.
LCROSS consists of two main components, an expended Centaur upper stage and the Northrop Grumman-built Shepherding Spacecraft. On approach to the moon, the Shepherding Spacecraft will position the upper stage for a precision impact, then separate and perform a braking maneuver in order to observe the upper stage’s impact into the moon using the on-board sensor payload. The impact will create a plume higher than 10 kilometers from the moon’s surface that may be visible from Earth by amateur astronomers, given viewing conditions.
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