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Lunar water mapping satellite struggles to get into orbit due to faulty propulsion system

LunaH-Map spacecraft packed and ready for delivery to NASA KSC. LunaH-Map team members from left to right: Joe DuBois (Mechanical Lead), Nathaniel Struebel (Mechanical and Thermal Engineer), Craig Hardgrove (Principal Investigator), Tyler O’Brien (Operations). Credit: Arizona State University

Edinburgh, 2 January 2023. – The NASA-funded LunaH-Map (Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper) spacecraft, launched on Artemis 1, did not make it into orbit around the moon due to a problem with the propulsion system. Engineers are currently trying to fix thrusters to then try to insert the cubesat into its designated orbit around Moon.

The six-unit cubesat was designed to orbit the moon with the aim to determine the amount of water ice in the permanently shadowed polar craters. The spacecraft is integrated with a miniaturized neutron spectrometer for counting epithermal neutrons and map water abundance.

The 10 x 20 x 30-cm satellite with a mass of 14 kg was launched as a secondary payload atop the SLS (Space Launch System). The spacecraft’s propulsion is provided by an ion engine, and a Busek BIT-3 ion thruster, using iodine as a propellant.

Communication was established with LunaH-Map after 5 hours and 33 minutes after launch. However, attempts to ignite the propulsion system failed, most likely due to a partially stuck valve. All other spacecraft systems are working well. The mission was originally scheduled to last a minimum of two months, at end of which it will be targeted for a lunar impact.

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