Spacecraft Photographing Spacecraft!

There are moments when the reality of spaceflight suddenly hits home, and one of those is definitely when one spacecraft is able to photograph another.  The LRO team just released one such image, of the LADEE probe in orbit around the Moon.  It’s very low resolution, even after they corrected for the smearing caused by LADEE’s motion through LROC’s field of view; the LROC instrument is a pushbroom imager, so it’s really not suited to taking pictures of moving objects.  It’s meant for mapping.  But they managed to make it work anyway.  Here’s the zoomed in original image, where LADEE is a streak:

ladee_blowup_nn.serendipityThumbAnd here’s a processed image that basically reverses the distortion on LADEE, restoring the image of it at the expense of hopelessly smearing the Moon:

ladee_corrected_4x_nn.serendipityThumbIt’s pretty cool, and just imagine all the math that goes into planning an image like this!  (Or, just read the story at the LROC website: “Close Encounter!“)

This isn’t the first time one spacecraft has photographed another.  The venerable (and sadly, now deceased) spacecraft Mars Global Surveyor photographed both Mars Odyssey 2001 and Mars Express almost nine years ago:

Mars Odyssey

Mars Odyssey

Mars Express; the geometry for this image was much worse, so the image is more like the LRO images of LADEE.

Mars Express; the geometry for this was much worse, so the image is more like the LRO images of LADEE.

And, of course, LRO has photographed moon landers and MRO has photographed Mars landers — but some of the most spectacular images were those of landers in the act of landing.

Mars Phoenix Lander descending under parachute

Mars Phoenix Lander descending under parachute

MSL: Curiosity descending under parachute

MSL: Curiosity descending under parachute

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