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LCROSS will piggyback on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission for an Oct. 28 launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket equipped with a Centaur upper stage. While the launch will ferry LRO to the moon in about four days, LCROSS is in for a three-month journey to reach its proper moon smashing position. Once within range, the Centaur upper stage doubles as the main 4,400 pound (2,000 kg) impactor spacecraft for LCROSS.
The smaller Shepherding Spacecraft will guide Centaur towards its target crater, before dropping back to watch - and later fly through - the plume of moon dust and debris kicked up by Centaur's impact. The shepherding vehicle is packed with a light photometer, a visible light camera and four infrared cameras to study the Centaur's lunar plume before it turns itself into a second impactor and strikes a different crater about four minutes later.
"This payload delivery represents a new way of doing business for the center and the agency in general," said Daniel Andrews, LCROSS project manager at Ames, in a statement. "LCROSS primarily is using commercial-off-the-shelf instruments on this mission to meet the mission's accelerated development schedule and cost restraints."