Home South pole ice Tiny spacecraft hitchhiking on NASA’s Artemis-1 mission will search for lunar ice and test a hard landing method

Tiny spacecraft hitchhiking on NASA’s Artemis-1 mission will search for lunar ice and test a hard landing method


NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket, slated for launch in weeks from Kennedy Space Center, will set the stage for a future human moon landing and provide a ride for a fleet of tiny spacecraft hitchhikers with missions unique scientists.

Most of the attention ahead of the launch of the Artemis-1 mission on Aug. 29 is on the Orion spacecraft that will orbit the moon and the SLS, a 322-foot-tall beast of a rocket with 8.8 million thrust pounds. But what about the little guys? Although no humans will take part in this maiden voyage to orbit the moon, NASA has selected 10 CubeSats going to deep space destinations to be deployed alongside Orion’s spaceflight.

According to NASA, each small satellite designed by international, industrial and academic partners will collect data to aid future lunar missions and Mars exploration. The European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) are among the international payloads flying with Orion.


The CubeSats will be mounted in the Orion Stage Adapter, a ring that attaches the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) to Orion’s spacecraft adapter. After separation from Orion, the shoebox-sized spacecraft will be deployed from dispensers on the adapter ring.

CubeSats are launched and deployed in low Earth orbit all the time. NASA’s chief exploration scientist, Jacob Bleacher, says the Artemis program will allow these low-cost, high-risk, high-reward satellites to explore more.

“These CubeSats will provide a new understanding of the lunar environment, which will help us better design our exploration systems to keep our crew safe and help hardware survive longer on the moon,” Bleacher said during the talk. a recent call with reporters.

The amount of frozen water on the moon is one of the key questions as NASA plans to return humans to the moon by 2025. The ice can be harvested by astronauts and robots for use as fuel, water and other resources instead of shopping for supplies. .

One such satellite, LunarH-Map, led by Arizona State University, will create maps of craters on the moon and shadowed regions near the lunar south pole thought to contain water ice.

“We have known for some time that there is water ice at the poles of the moon. But there are many unanswered questions about how much it is and where exactly it is,” said researcher Craig Hardgrove. principal of LunarH-Map, at Arizona State University. said.


Most of the ice is near permanently shadowed regions of the South Pole, some of the coldest places in the solar system because these areas never see sunlight. It’s also possible that water ice is in the sunny plains, but there isn’t enough high-resolution data from either pole to know that, Hardgrove said.

“On such a small spacecraft, we are able to plan the mission and navigate in a very low South Pole orbit so that we can pass over these regions of the South Pole and reveal if there is whether or not ice enrichments only in the permanently shaded regions, or whether the ice actually extends into the illuminated plains,” Hardgrove said.

LunarH-Map will use a neutron spectroscopy instrument to study these sunlit regions.

Another spacecraft, Lunar IceCube, led by Morehead State University, will search for ice on the moon using an infrared spectrometer.

Many of these CubeSats have moon-related goals, while others focus on additional deep space research or Earth science.

JAXA is involved in the launch of two CubeSats on Artemis 1, OMOTENASHI, an effort to develop the smallest lunar lander, and EQUULEUS, a partnership with the University of Tokyo studying the Earth’s radiation environment.

Tatsuaki Hashimoto, project manager for OMOTENASHI, said the CubeSat 6U would make a semi-hard but hopefully survivable landing on the moon to demonstrate the technology for future missions. After an orbital insertion maneuver, OMOTENASHI will use a small rocket engine to hover about 200 meters before free-falling towards the moon with a small airbag to soften the fall.

“The trajectory is carefully designed to maximize the probability of a successful landing,” Tatsuaki said. “OMOTENASHI’s rocket engine ignition timing is very important.”

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is sending NEA Scout with Artemis 1. A 925-square-foot solar sail will propel the shoebox-sized spacecraft to photograph a near-Earth asteroid.

The SLS and Orion arrived at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B early Wednesday ahead of the August 29 targeted launch.