NASA's Lunar Prospector was launched on its five-day mission to the Moon by the first Lockheed Martin Athena 2 booster from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 6 January.

The Lunar Prospector, also built by Lockheed Martin, will be used to conduct an intensive one-year survey of the Moon from a polar orbit. The 295kg NASA Discovery-series craft carries five instruments, including three spectrometers, which will be used to survey the Moon's chemical composition and search for possible sources of water ice thought to exist in some lunar polar regions which do not receive much Sunlight.


NASA paid Lockheed Martin about $25 million for the commercial launch, the space agency's first Moonshot since the final Apollo manned flight 25 years ago.

The launch was the third flight by a solid-propellant Athena-series booster, following one failed and one successful launch of the Athena 1 in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

The three-stage Athena 2 and its orbit-adjust module worked perfectly after the night lift-off, the first from the refurbished Pad 46, which is operated commercially by the Spaceport Florida Authority (SFA). It is the first launch pad which can accommodate different vehicles.

The SFA plans to refurbish the former Titan launch pad 40 at Canaveral and also to offer it to launcher companies, says SFA director of policy and programme development, Edward Ellegood.

Source: Flight International