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NASA's laser-linked spacecraft hunts for moon dust

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NASA has launched a new robotic mission to the moon. LADEE is to study exosphere, the thin volume of gas and dust particles surrounding the satellite. It is also equipped with an experimental high-bandwidth laser communication device to deliver the data. The orbiter lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Virginia coast on late Friday on a Minotaur V rocket, which made its debut flight in lifting its payload from the gravity well. The site was chosen because three of the rocket's five stages came from a refurbished intercontinental ballistic missile, and an international treaty with Russia limits the number of sites that are allowed to launch ICBMs. The $280 million Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission is to last for at least 100 days. The probe is expected to take a month to travel to the moon and will orbit over its equator at a low altitude of about 50 km. It will take another month to test its systems before the spacecraft begins measurements.

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