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After Friday's stunning launch, NASA fixes LADEE moon probe glitch

Just hours after liftoff, NASA's LADEE moon explorer encountered a glitch in its reaction wheels. Engineers have fixed the problem and the probe is set to continue its mission to study the moon's atmosphere. 

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Photographer Chris Bakley captured this stunning image of NASA's LADEE moon probe launch from the beach in Cape May Point, N.J., on Sept. 6, 2013. LADEE launched from Wallops Island, Va., and was visible across a wide swath of the U.S. East Coast.

Chris Bakley

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Engineers have fixed a technical glitch on NASA's newest robotic moon explorer, bringing the spacecraft back up to full health one day after a spectacular nighttime launch Friday that wowed spectators up and down the U.S. East Coast.

NASA's LADEE moon probe launch into space Friday night (Sept. 6) in a flawless liftoff from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. An Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur V rocket, making its debut flight, launched the lunar probe.

But just hours after the 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT) liftoff, NASA officials reported that the spacecraft's reaction wheels — which spin to position and stabilize LADEE in space without using precious thruster fuel — unexpectedly shut down. [See spectacular LADEE night launch photos by SPACE.com readers]

By Saturday afternoon, the glitch had been traced to safety limits programmed into LADEE before launch to protect the reaction wheel system, NASA officials said. Those fault protection limits caused LADEE to switch off its reaction wheels shortly after powering them up, according to a mission status update. Engineers have since disabled the safety limits causing the glitch and taking extra care in restoring the fault-protection protocols.

"Our engineers will determine the appropriate means of managing the reaction wheel fault protection program. Answers will be developed over time and will not hold up checkout activities," NASA's LADEE project manager Butler Hine said in a statement.

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