Artemis 1 Moon CubeSat’s Ice-Hunting Expedition Comes to a Close
NASA’s LunaH-Map cubesat was one of the 10 cubesats that launched as ride-along payloads last November on Artemis 1, the first-ever mission of NASA’s moon-bound Artemis program. Unfortunately, LunaH-Map’s propulsion system failed to perform a crucial engine burn five days after liftoff, preventing it from getting into lunar orbit as planned. LunaH-Map aimed to map the abundance and distribution of water ice near the south pole of the moon, making it a vital component of the Artemis program, which seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028.
However, as of Monday (May 1), the LunaH-Map mission may soon come to an end if efforts to troubleshoot the propulsion system issue do not yield positive results. According to LunaH-Map principal investigator Craig Hardgrove, of Arizona State University, if the team cannot ignite the propulsion system, they are likely to end operations at the end of May. This is a significant setback for NASA’s Artemis program and highlights the challenges of space exploration.
LunaH-Map’s propulsion system issues may have been caused by the delay in launching the cubesat. The cubesats were integrated into a stage adapter on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket in the fall of 2021, but the mission didn’t get off the ground until the following November due to technical issues and bad weather. Hardgrove informed NASA that this propulsion system was not built to withstand a long launch delay, longer than four or five months. This delay may have contributed to the problem that afflicted LunaH-Map.
Despite LunaH-Map’s setback, the mission teams of all the Artemis 1 cubesats should hold their heads up high, Hardgrove said. “Characterizing any of them as a failure is not fair,” he said. “They’ve all developed a substantial amount of technology.” Indeed, the Artemis 1 mission as a whole succeeded in sending an uncrewed Orion capsule to lunar orbit and back. NASA is now gearing up for Artemis 2, which will launch four astronauts around the moon in late 2024, if all goes according to plan. Artemis 3, which will put boots down near the lunar south pole, is scheduled to follow a year or so later.
The LunaH-Map mission is a reminder of the challenges that come with space exploration. Even the smallest oversight can have significant consequences. The failure of LunaH-Map’s propulsion system means that the mapping of water ice near the south pole of the moon will be delayed. However, this setback does not mean that the mission has failed. The LunaH-Map team developed cutting-edge technology that will be useful for future missions.
In conclusion for the Artemis 1, the LunaH-Map cubesat has encountered a significant setback, and the mission may come to an end if efforts to troubleshoot the propulsion system issue do not yield positive results. Despite this setback, the Artemis program is still on track to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028. The lessons learned from the LunaH-Map mission will undoubtedly contribute to the success of future missions, highlighting the importance of perseverance and innovation in space exploration.