NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Mission Halted Due to Rocket Engine Issues
NASA has announced the termination of the Lunar Flashlight mission, which was designed to search for surface ice in the Moon’s South Pole craters. The CubeSat failed to reach lunar orbit or even maintain an Earth orbit within the Earth-Moon system due to issues with its non-toxic fuel propulsion system.
Launched on December 11, 2022, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, the Lunar Flashlight CubeSat was intended to enter a lunar orbit that would allow it to regularly fly over the Moon’s South Pole. The craters at the pole are in perpetual shadow and could potentially harbor water ice. The CubeSat was equipped with a quadruple laser system that worked by reflecting signals to search for ice. Unfortunately, the system will not be tested in real-world conditions as part of the Lunar Flashlight mission.
NASA explained that the mission’s failure was due to insufficient thrust from the CubeSat’s engines. It is believed that this issue was caused by clogged fuel lines, which could have been contaminated with metal powder or shavings. The fuel delivery system was 3D-printed using laser sintering of metal powder. NASA suspects that three out of the four fuel lines were blocked, preventing the engines from achieving the necessary thrust. Maneuvers using only one of the four engines proved unsuccessful.
Despite the setback, the CubeSat remains in communication with mission control. All of its scientific instruments and onboard systems are functional. Furthermore, the mission’s primary goal – searching for ice on the Moon – has not significantly diminished the mission’s value. Several new instruments and technologies on the CubeSat have been tested in real conditions, including the upgraded IRIS radio system for precise deep-space navigation, the new propulsion system, the non-toxic Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT) fuel, and other innovations. The information gathered will be used in preparing for future missions, making even the unsuccessful Lunar Flashlight flight a success in some respects.
The CubeSat is not entirely lost, as it is currently moving towards Earth and will pass within 65,000 km before entering an orbit around the Sun. Communication with the spacecraft remains intact, and NASA hopes to assign it new tasks in the future.
- I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.
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