Artemis 1 cubesat finishes mission after detecting water and ice on the moon (Image Credit: Space.com)
The mission of an ice-hunting cubesat is officially at an end.
These types of small satellites “are inherently risky, as they are designed to test the bounds of what can be achieved with lower-cost missions,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said in an agency statement.
Operations ceased in May, as NASA previously predicted, due to a stuck valve in the cubesat’s propulsion system that stranded the little satellite in the wrong orbit. NASA officials made no official declaration of mission’s end until Aug. 3, however.
The statement emphasized that LunaH-Map, although it missed mapping the south pole of the moon, did achieve one of its main mission objectives. The mission was led by Craig Hardgrove at Arizona State University, and showed great performance on its main instrument.
The cubesat’s neutron spectrometer “can detect water and ice at the lunar surface,” the statement said. The data will continue to be parsed and the design of the cubesat will inform future missions, agency officials added.
Mission science will also live on, Hardgrove stated. “We’ve said goodbye to our little spacecraft, but this is not the last you’ll be hearing about it,” Hardgrove wrote on Twitter. “Plenty of papers and presentations are in the pipeline this year and next about the technology & science.”
A version of the spacecraft’s spectrometer will fly on another NASA mission, called Lunar-VISE or Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer. It’s part of a payload that will fly to the moon’s surface on a future mission under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program that funds private landers, rovers and science on the surface.
LunaH-Map was part of a cluster of cubesats launching with Artemis 1 in November 2022. While many of them went on to complete their major objectives, other ones also struggled. For example, Japan’s Omotenashi spacecraft could not drop a tiny lander on the moon due to a communications issue. And NEA Scout remained silent after launch, leaving it unable to solar sail over to a near-Earth asteroid.
The larger Artemis 1 mission met all its major goals, including flying an Orion spacecraft around the moon and sending it safely to Earth. NASA is hard at work on the second mission of the series, Artemis 2, now expected to launch four astronauts around the moon no sooner than 2024. Artemis 3, a moon-landing mission, may follow in 2025 or 2026 if all keeps to schedule.