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Halifax County native promotes aerospace opportunities

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launches its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) tonight at 11:27 from the Mid-Atlantic spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility, Halifax County native Raymond Witcher will be watching with much interest.

Witcher is a senior quality assurance and workmanship engineer on the NASA Contract Assurance Services Quality Team at the Goddard Space center in Greenbelt, Md. 

The 1974 Halifax County High School graduate urges county residents to tune in to view live streaming of the launch tonight at

“This is a great opportunity for a lot of people in South Boston to experience a launch from inside NASA’s viewpoint and monitor NASA events like space walks and ISS (International Space Station) activities real time in the future. This site will show details that you won’t see anywhere else like pre-launch check outs, system check outs, countdown, launch, vehicle stage separations etc… It is free and a great opportunity to watch something very different with your families from home,” Witcher said.

The son of Susie A. Witcher and the late Dr. Raymond E. Witcher said by exposing the youth and schools systems of the area to this kind of opportunity, it will automatically start the youths’ minds working, asking questions, considering aerospace as a career and help the school system plan and prepare programs to make these dreams possible. 

 He said his goals are to bring this type of aerospace business and opportunity to his home county.

According to NASA, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, pronounced like “laddie”) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. 

A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

The LADEE spacecraft will be launched on a Minotaur V vehicle during a five-day launch period that opens today.

The LADEE mission is divided into mission phases including launch, ascent, activation and checkout, phasing orbits, lunar orbit insertion, commissioning, science and decommissioning.

Once launched, LADEE will enter a series of phasing orbits, which allows the spacecraft to arrive at the moon at the proper time and phase. This approach accommodates any dispersion in the Minotaur V launch injection.

LADEE’s arrival at the moon depends on the launch date. The spacecraft will approach the moon from its leading edge, travel behind the moon out of sight of the Earth, and then re-emerge and execute a three-minute Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver. This will place LADEE in an elliptical retrograde equatorial orbit with an orbital period of approximately 24 hours.

A series of maneuvers is then performed to reduce the orbit to become nearly circular with a 156-mile (250-kilometer) altitude.

The 100-day Science Phase is performed at an orbit that will vary between 20–60 kilometers due to the moon’s “lumpy” gravity field. During the Science Phase, the moon will rotate more than three times underneath the LADEE orbit.

Following the Science Phase, a decommissioning period is planned, during which the altitude will be managed down to lower altitudes, after which the spacecraft will impact the lunar surface.

The LADEE mission has many firsts, including the first flight of the Minotaur V rocket, testing of a high-data-rate laser communication system, and the first lunar launch from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, located 110 miles from Norfolk.

It is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Ames manages the overall LADEE mission. 

The probe will launch on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles.

Witcher, who is living the dream of many young people, is currently involved with the Global Positioning Mission which is actually a $1 billion spacecraft classified as a class “B” mission. 

It launches from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan around Feb. 22.

“Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) is an international satellite mission to provide next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours. 

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch a “Core” satellite carrying advanced instruments that will set a new standard for precipitation measurements from space. The data they provide will be used to unify precipitation measurements made by an international network of partner satellites to quantify when, where and how much it rains or snows around the world. 

“The GPM mission will help advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles, improve the forecasting of extreme events that cause natural disasters, and extend current capabilities of using satellite precipitation information to directly benefit society,” Witcher said.

The South Boston native said he believes his hometown is in a prime location to host businesses that could serve the aerospace industry or the Department of Defense and is working with Industrial Development Authority officials to make this happen.