NASA’s Small Lunar Probe Will Hitch a Ride on a Commercial Lunar Mission – Spaceflight Now

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Spacecraft. credit: NASA

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight – a small spacecraft to measure water ice in dark craters near the moon’s poles – will now launch as a payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year after delays caused it to miss one. tour of the agency’s Artemis 1 mission.

Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, confirmed the new launch arrangement for the mission last month during the Lunar Surface Science Workshop, a gathering of researchers planning scientific investigations for future lunar expeditions.

Lunar Flashlight will travel into space with a commercial lunar module built by Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based private company that NASA has contracted for at least three robotic lunar landing missions through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program. agency.

Intuitive Machines’ first CLPS mission, known as IM-1, will launch from platform 39A at Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket. A recent update to a public launch schedule on NASA’s website shows that the IM- 1 is scheduled to lift off on December 22 and land on the moon several weeks later, using Intuitive Machines’ methane-powered Nova-C lander to deliver NASA experiments on the lunar surface.

The IM-1 was originally scheduled to launch in 2021, when NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a $77 million contract for the mission in 2019. Intuitive Machines contracted with SpaceX to launch the IM-1 mission.

The Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, with a total weight of about 30 pounds (14 kg) at launch, will take advantage of excess payload capacity on the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the IM-1 lunar module.

Artist’s illustration of an Intuitive Machines Nova-C probe during launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Intuitive Machines

The Lunar Lantern was previously designated to launch on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System’s massive lunar rocket. NASA has selected 13 CubeSat missions, including Lunar Flashlight, to participate in the first SLS flight, known as Artemis 1.

Lunar Flashlight was one of three CubeSat missions that were not ready in time to be integrated into the SLS lunar rocket before being shut down for the Artemis 1 test launch.

The Lunar Flashlight mission, led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was designed to orbit the moon and launch infrared lasers into permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles. An instrument on the Lunar Lantern will measure the light reflected from the lunar surface, revealing the composition and amount of water ice and other molecules hidden in the dark depths of the craters.

A NASA spokesperson said last year that problems with the original propulsion system for the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft forced managers to switch to an alternative design. This slowed mission development and, along with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, prevented the spacecraft from being ready for integration with the Artemis 1 rocket.

The other two CubeSat projects that missed the deadline for Artemis 1 were the Cislunar Explorers mission, which consists of a pair of CubeSats from Cornell University, and the CU-E3 mission at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

None of them secured a new release opportunity.

The mission patch for the CU-E3 CubeSat mission. Credit: University of Colorado Boulder

The two Cislunar Explorers nanosatellites are designed to orbit the moon and test a water-based propulsion system and optical navigation technology.

Curran Muhlberger, an advisor to the mission’s faculty at Cornell, said last year that Cislunar Explorers missed its Artemis 1 ride due to issues in technology development and delays caused by the pandemic. While Cornell’s team was able to assemble and fine-tune the spacecraft, Muhlberger said he was not confident enough in the system’s reliability to feel comfortable enough to proceed with the launch on Artemis 1.

In May, Muhlberger said the team “has made good progress” since last year on an integrated simulation of the mission’s propulsion and navigation technologies. “We are deferring the active search for a new launch vendor until we complete a rigorous validation of our capabilities,” he said.

Scott Palo, CU-E principal investigator3 mission at CU Boulder, said his project suffered from several flight hardware failures during testing. “Given our limited resources, we have not yet identified a viable way forward.”

the suggestion3 The small satellite was supposed to launch into Artemis 1 and head into deep space, reaching a distance of more than 4 million kilometers from Earth to test a miniature planar antenna for deep space communications.

Send an email to the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: