The ASU-led team that built NASA’s Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper, or “LunaH-Map” for short, has safely delivered their spacecraft to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for an expected launch later this year on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). SLS). Artemis I missile.
LunaH-Map is a fully functional interplanetary spacecraft the size of a large cereal box and weighs about 30 pounds. It is the first mission to be driven, designed, assembled, integrated, tested, and delivered from the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe. Its destination is in lunar orbit, and from it it will map water ice in permanently shaded regions of the moon’s south pole.
To begin its journey from Arizona State University to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the spacecraft was first enclosed in an airtight, nitrogen-filled, static-safe bag. They are then carefully placed in a shatter- and dust-resistant foam-lined case.
Four tickets were purchased from Phoenix to Orlando on a commercial airline, three for the human members of the LunaH-Map team and one for the spacecraft, which was placed in the middle seat between two team members.
Once the LunaH-Map team arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, they unloaded the spacecraft and checked to make sure it hadn’t scrambled or collected any dust or debris during transport, and took photos for documentation. After installing a set of handles and carefully removing the “Remove Before Flight” cover plates, they inserted the spacecraft into the flight diffuser that would launch with the SLS rocket. After that, the trip dispenser door was carefully closed and locked.
“From there, we handed the process over to NASA,” said LunaH-Map principal investigator and associate professor Craig Hardgrove of ASU’s Earth and Space Exploration, who along with AZ Space Technologies mechanical leader Nathaniel Struebel and Qwaltec chief operating officer Patrick Healey. The spacecraft was flown to its destination in Florida.
When Artemis I launches later this year, including the LunaH-Map, there will be about a dozen small spacecraft, called CubeSats, on board. These will be secondary payloads on the Artemis I mission.
Artemis I’s primary mission is to test NASA’s Space Launch System, which is designed to lift more than any existing launch vehicle. The rocket will also carry the Orion spacecraft, which will make a trip to the moon and back to Earth, and which will carry human crews into space on future missions. The ring connecting Orion to the SLS contains space for CubeSat payloads, which will be sent into deep space during the mission.
Once Artemis I is launched and LunaH-Map is deployed, the spacecraft will use a series of lunar flybys and an ion propulsion system to enter lunar orbit. Once it reaches a lower altitude, it will begin its scientific mission to measure the abundance of hydrogen within the permanently shaded regions of the moon’s south pole, using a new type of compact neutron spectrometer.
While we know from decades of lunar exploration that there is an enrichment of water ice in certain regions around our moon’s poles, LunaH-Map will seek to determine how much and where this enrichment is. It may contain enough water to alter our view of the formation and evolution of the Moon, or it may contain enough water to support future human and robotic exploration of the solar system.
The total mission will last about a year and the spacecraft will perform approximately 300 revolutions around the moon. During this time, the LunaH-Map will operate from the Mission Operations Center in Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 on the ASU Tempe campus where the spacecraft is built. The team will communicate directly with the Deep Space Network of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to send the commands that will be sent to the spacecraft.
“The delivery of the spacecraft to NASA and the Artemis program is a tremendous achievement that is the culmination of years of dedicated work by the ASU LunaH-Map team and many of our vendor and contractor partners across the country,” said Jim Bell, Deputy Principal Investigator at LunaH-Map. He is a planetary scientist and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “It is an outstanding achievement for ASU overall and will help set the stage for many exciting and exciting future CubeSat assignments for ASU students, faculty, and staff.”
With Hardgrove and Bell, the LunaH-Map team includes several employees and students at Arizona State University, representatives from two local Tempe companies — AZ Space Technologies and Qwaltec — and representatives from US commercial space companies and NASA centers. The spacecraft includes an overhead panel with signatures of those who worked on LunaH-Map and the names of friends and family.
Now that the spacecraft has been delivered, the team will use the spacecraft’s engineering model, located at Arizona State University, to develop and test the spacecraft activities that will be required once the LunaH-Map flies. This model includes all of the components on the spacecraft that has just been delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
“LunaH-Map, and all other Artemis I CubeSats, are paving the way for a new type of space exploration mission that leverages the strengths of pairing a professional engineering team with university staff and students,” Hardgrove said. “These missions are among the first to test new technologies required for a very small spacecraft to complete science missions in deep space.”
Following the success of these missions, Hardgrove sees the future CubeSats will increasingly be involved in high-risk, high-reward science missions, paired with a larger NASA spacecraft. In this capacity, they could be sent to unexplored regions of the solar system, performing independent maneuvers and collecting scientific data that would be too risky for the primary mission to obtain.
Lunar IceCube undergoes critical tests at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Provided by Arizona State University
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