Science and Exploration

LunaH-Map Update

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 23, 2022
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LunaH-Map Update

After deploying from the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket, NASA’s LunaH-Map spacecraft was powered on and communicating with Earth 5 hours and 33 minutes following launch on Nov. 16.

Shortly after deployment, the operations team made first radio contact with the spacecraft and transitioned it out of beacon mode. Over the next 24 hours, the team also successfully commissioned the solar arrays, radio, neutron spectrometer, and various spacecraft bus systems. The neutron spectrometer collected a set of cruise data that indicated the detector is functioning nominally.

On Nov. 17, the team powered on the propulsion system. However, after many ignition attempts, the system was not able to achieve thrust prior to the spacecraft’s planned lunar flyby on Nov. 21. The mission’s original trajectory required that the spacecraft make a propulsive maneuver on Nov. 21 as a step toward its eventual lunar polar orbit.

Based on the propulsion data, the team has assessed that the propulsion system valve may be partially stuck. Heating this valve over many hours may result in freeing it, allowing for ignition. Therefore, the spacecraft has now been instructed to heat the propulsion valve.

If the propulsion system is able to achieve thrust within the next few months, the mission may still recover some or all of LunaH-Map’s original science mission. On the spacecraft’s current path, alternate trajectories are available to achieve lunar orbit – including orbits that could enable low-altitude measurements of the lunar surface. If even more time is needed to heat the valve and ignite the propulsion system, trajectory solutions outside of the Earth-Moon system may exist to fly close to certain asteroids and characterize their hydrogen content.

During the lunar flyby, LunaH-Map’s neutron spectrometer collected neutron data from as close as 810 miles (1,300 kilometers) above the lunar surface. Data from the detector clearly shows neutrons and gamma-rays from the surface of the Moon increasing along the flyby, demonstrating the instrument is operating as expected and could achieve LunaH-Map’s science mission.

After the flyby, LunaH-Map acquired several images of the Moon with its star tracker. In the next few days, the spacecraft will attempt to send these images back to Earth. The mission also plans to conduct an auto-navigation experiment and a radio ranging test with NASA’s Deep Space Network prior to resuming attempts to ignite the propulsion system.

LunaH-Map’s battery charge is functioning well. The batteries are currently fully charged from the solar arrays.

LunaH-Map is led by Craig Hardgrove at Arizona State University in Tempe. The mission was selected in the first round of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration, or SIMPLEx, program, with a total cost of $13.3 million. SIMPLEx missions provide opportunities for low-cost, high risk science missions that are responsive to requirements for flexibility.

These lower cost missions serve as an ideal platform for technical and architecture innovation, contributing to NASA’s science research and technology development objectives. SIMPLEx mission investigations are managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Discovery Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA provided a ride to deep space aboard the Space Launch System rocket for 10 CubeSats, each of which have separate missions from the agency’s Artemis I flight test.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.