Engineers Are Racing to Salvage Cubesat for Moon Mission
An illustration of the 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 rover failed to ignite its engines shortly after liftoff. Time is now running out, as the team has until mid-January to fix the shuttle’s thrusters and give it a second chance to enter lunar orbit.
NASA’s LunaH-Map, produced by Arizona State University, was one of 10 probes launched on November 16, 2022 as secondary payloads aboard the Artemis 1 mission. The small probe was one of six probes to send the signal. radios on ground crews, at what was an alarming rate of attrition.
Things were looking good for LunaH-Map until the next day, when mission controllers attempted to engage the cubesat’s propulsion system and perform a crucial course correction maneuver. Despite several attempts, the spacecraft failed to ignite its engines, preventing it from making its intended lunar flyby on November 21. LunaH-Map was supposed to use this thruster maneuver to steer it toward its orbit around the Moon.
Engineers hope to fire up LunaH-Map’s thrusters in the coming weeks so the spacecraft can take an alternate route to the moon, Craig Hardgrove, principal investigator for LunaH-Map at Arizona State University, said during a presentation about with the mission in the fall. American Geophysical Union meeting in December, SpaceNews reported. The team has until mid-January to do so, otherwise the probe will never reach any kind of lunar orbit.
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The data gathered so far suggests that a valve inside the shuttle’s thrusters is partially stuck. Engineers are trying to use heaters in the propulsion system to loosen the valve. If the spacecraft misses the second shot at entering lunar orbit, the mission team will consider sending LunaH-Map to a near-Earth asteroid, according to Hardgrove.
While NASA’s Artemis 1 mission was a success, its secondary payload has not been so lucky, with most of the cubesats packed for the lunar mission failing at some point after launch. The mission suffered several delays, and engineers were only able to reload four of the 10 pods already packed inside the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. NASA was concerned that its LunaH-Map spacecraft would not have enough power to endure the trip to the Moon and complete its mission of measuring water ice in the shadowed regions of the lunar surface, but that turned out not to be the case. it was a problem. A stuck valve is another story.
It won’t be long before we find out 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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