T-minus ten minutes and counting! NASA is scheduled to launch its newest mission, The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL this morning at 8:37 9:16AM EDT. Two twin spacecrafts will be launched into orbit to get up close and personal with an old friend we still have much to learn about: the moon. GRAIL A and GRAIL B are nearly identical crafts about the size of a washing machine and we’re excited about the fact that unlike many past spacecrafts, they’ll be equipped with solar arrays to power their mission with the rays of the sun. Watch the launch after the jump!

NASA, solar power, solar arrays, GRAIL, space launch, solar panels,space solar, moon,

Though some of their orbiting power will be battery operated, the onboard systems will be juiced by giant solar arrays on the sides of the crafts. The equipment includes a control system, a sun sensor, a star tracker, and reaction wheels. Deployed shortly after separating from the launch rocket, the 6.2 foot panels of 26 strings of 20 solar cells will remain fixed throughout the mission, producing nearly 700 watts of power by the end.

Each GRAIL is also fitted with two antennas, one mounted on the sunny side of the craft and one on the dark side. The sunny-side antennas will point to Earth during the full moon and the dark-side antennas will point to Earth during the new moon, avoiding the need to rotate the craft and waste energy during the mission.

The journey to the moon is expected to take 3 and half months. GRAIL A should touch down on the moon on New Years Eve, 2011 and GRAIL B will follow suit the very next day. Wanna see the actual launch? Watch the liftoff live here.


images courtesy of NASA