Mission 1. LRO Goals

2. Anatomy of a

3. LRO's Instruments


2. Anatomy of a Mission

In 2004, NASA decided to build a robotic spacecraft to send to the Moon. It had two reasons for this. First, the mission would prepare for future human exploration of the Moon. Second, the mission would help scientists better understand other airless bodies in the solar system, such as Mercury and the moons of other planets.

  Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Construction
Technicians at Goddard Space Flight Center attach the instrument module to LRO's bus (the black object). The technicians are wearing clean suits to protect the spacecraft from dust, hair, or small flakes of skin. (NASA)

NASA invited teams of scientists and engineers to create proposals describing scientific instruments to put on the spacecraft. Teams from across the United States – and even other countries – submitted their proposals. NASA chose seven of these teams. These built the instruments that would fly to the Moon on-board the LRO.

For three years, from January 2005 to January 2008, the seven teams worked hard to build their instruments. They also tested them as much as possible. No one wanted to send a broken instrument to the Moon! Finally, the teams sent the instruments to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The technicians at Goddard had built the spacecraft's main body, called the bus. The bus is basically a box built around a fuel tank. The fuel powers LRO's rockets. The bus provides the locations to mount the instruments, antenna, and solar panel.

Technicians at Goddard bolted each of the seven instruments to the spacecraft. Then they connected all the wires. Every instrument contains its own small computer to communicate with the spacecraft's main computer.

The technicians then tested the entire spacecraft. The spacecraft and all the instruments still worked after the testing, so it was ready to launch. The technicians at Goddard shipped LRO by truck to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

LRO launched from Florida on June 18, 2009. It arrived at the Moon five days later and began orbiting. In the same way that the Earth orbits, or revolves around, the Sun, LRO also orbits the Moon. It is about 50 km (30 mi) above the Moon's surface and takes almost 2 hours to complete an orbit. Even though it is 384,000 km (239,000 miles) away from Earth, scientists and engineers contact it every day to give it commands and receive its data.

Ray, the Cosmic Ray

“Whew!  A lot of work went into LRO!  To learn more about LRO’s instruments, go to
3. LRO's Instruments