Engineers race to save Cubesat for Moon mission

Engineers race to save Cubesat for Moon mission

An illustration of LunaH-Map in orbit around the Moon.

An illustration of LunaH-Map in orbit around the Moon.
illustration: Arizona State University

A mission to measure lunar water ice on the Moon is in jeopardy after the cubesat failed to ignite its engines shortly after launch. Time is running out, as the team has until mid-January to fix the spacecraft’s thrusters and give it a second chance to enter lunar orbit.

NASA’s LunaH-Map, manufactured by Arizona State University, was one of 10 cubesats launched on November 16, 2022 as secondary payloads. aboard the Artemis 1 mission. The small probe was one of the six cubesat cables sending the radio signal to the ground crews, at what was a disturbing attrition rate.

Things were going well for LunaH-Map until the next day, when mission controllers attempted to activate the cubesat’s propulsion system and execute a crucial course correction maneuver. Despite several attempts, the spacecraft he was unable to start his enginespreventing him from making his planned lunar flight on November 21. LunaH-Map was supposed to use this propulsive maneuver to steer it into orbit around the Moon.

Engineers hope to fire LunaH-Map’s thrusters in the coming weeks so the spacecraft can take an alternate route to the moon, Craig Hardgrove, LunaH-Map principal investigator at Arizona State University, said during a presentation on the mission in the fall. American Geophysical Union December Meeting, SpaceNews reported. The team has until mid-January to do so, otherwise the probe will never reach any kind of orbit around the Moon.

Data collected so far suggests that a valve inside the spacecraft’s thrusters is partially blocked. Engineers try use heaters in the propulsion system to release the valve. If the spacecraft misses its second chance to enter lunar orbit, the mission team will consider sending LunaH-Map to a near-Earth asteroid, Hardgrove said.

while NASA’s Artemis 1 mission was a successits secondary payload has not been so lucky, with most cubesats packed away for the lunar mission failing sometime after launch. The mission suffered several delays and engineers were only able to reload four out of 10 cubesats already packed into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket NASA was concerned that its LunaH-Map cubesat would not have enough power to sustain the trip to the Moon and complete its mission of measuring water ice in the shadowed regions of the lunar surface, but that was not a problem . A stuck valve is another story.

It won’t be long before we discover the fate of LunaH-Map once and for all, but hopefully this little probe can make it all the way to the Moon.

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