There appears to be little time remaining to save the LunaH-Map cubesat from NASA.
The investigation was one of ten cubesats launched as ride-along instruments on Artemis 1 in November 2014, the inaugural mission of NASA’s moon-bound Artemis program.
The objective of LunaH-Map was to map the abundance and distribution of water ice near the moon’s south pole. Five days after launch, the spacecraft failed to conduct a crucial engine firing and did not enter lunar orbit as planned.
The problem was quickly traced to a clogged valve in the cubesat’s propulsion system by the mission team. Since then, they have been attempting to resolve the issue, but their efforts may shortly conclude.
“If we cannot ignite the [propulsion] system, we are likely to end operations by the end of May,” LunaH-Map principal investigator Craig Hardgrove of Arizona State University said at the Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference on Monday (May 1).
As reported by SpaceNews, the Artemis 1 cubesats were integrated into a stage adapter on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket in the autumn of 2021. Due to technical problems and inclement weather, the mission did not launch until November of the following year.
Hardgrove stated that this delay could be the root cause of the problem that plagued LunaH-Map.
“We informed NASA that this propulsion system was not designed to withstand a launch delay of more than four or five months,” he said Monday.
LunaH-Map was not the only Artemis 1 cubesat to encounter difficulties after launch. For instance, the OMOTENASHI spacecraft was unable to land a small lander on the moon due to a communications issue. And NEA Scout, which was designed to solar-sail to a near-Earth asteroid and then study it in detail, never called home after its November 16 launch.
Hardgrove stated that the mission crews of all Artemis 1 cubesats should hold their heads aloft.
According to SpaceNews, he stated that describing any of them as failures is unfair. They have all created a significant quantity of technology.
Overall, Artemis 1 was a success, launching an unmanned Orion capsule into lunar orbit and returned. NASA is currently preparing for Artemis 2, which, if all goes according to plan, will launch four astronauts around the moon in late 2024. Artemis 3, which will land near the lunar south pole, is scheduled to occur roughly a year after Artemis 2.