The Minotaur V rocket that will carry NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va. (Credit: NASA EDGE)
For many along the East Coast, NASA's LADEE mission launch will be visible tonight during a four minute launch window that begins at 11:27 p.m.
LADEE, the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer, is a car-sized robotic orbiter that will orbit Earth before flying on to the moon, where it will collect atmospheric data.
The unmanned lunar orbiter will be launched on a five-stage Minotaur V rocket, better known as a Peacekeeper missile. Orbital Sciences Corp. gave the Cold War-era intercontinental ballistic missile a civilian redesign, and it will be the first to launch beyond Earth.
LADEE will also be the first lunar mission to launch from the northeast coast of North America, from Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
NASA and Orbital have created visibility maps for states along the East Coast. Facing south-southeast with a good view of the horizon at launch time, many in the U.S will be able to see LADEE drop its first three stages over the Atlantic Ocean.
This map shows the maximum elevation in degrees above the local horizon the Minotaur rocket will reach across the east coast on Sept.6, 2013. Ten degrees is equal to about the width of your fist at arm’s length. (Credit: Orbital Sciences)
With clear skies, the rocket will be visible in North Carolina, Richmond, Va., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Conn., and Boston.
Further away in West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Binghamton, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y., Montpelier, Vt., Bangor, Maine and Presque Isle, Maine, the launch may still be visible very close to the horizon.
This map shows how many seconds after launch the LADEE will become visible above the local horizon. (Credit: Orbital Sciences)
For those who can't watch live, the LADEE launch will be streaming launch coverage and commentary on NASA TV beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET.
View of LADEE launch from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Orbital Sciences)