This week there was good news for one NASA lunar mission as the CAPSTONE satellite recovered from a communications problem, but bad news for another. The Lunar Flashlight mission, which is to search the south pole of the moon for water ice, now does not make it into the planned orbit.
The Lunar Flashlight, a small satellite called CubeSat, was launched last December but soon encountered problems on its journey. Three of its four engines malfunctioned, making it difficult for the satellite to perform the maneuvers needed to enter its planned lunar orbit.
NASA explained in one To update that the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Georgia Tech attempted to solve the problem by rotating the spacecraft and firing the one working thruster in 10-minute bursts that they hoped would point the spacecraft in the required direction would push. But after several attempts, this one engine also stopped working.
The spacecraft will almost certainly not make it to its planned near-straight line halo orbit now. However, all is not lost. The team is working on a plan to salvage as much of the mission as possible by placing the satellite in high Earth orbit, which would allow it to fly past the moon and give it the opportunity to collect data from the moon’s south pole collect.
The satellite has limited fuel left after attempts to return it to its original orbit, but the team will attempt to begin maneuvers this week that could allow it to make its first scientific flight over the moon in June make.
NASA was philosophical in announcing the problem, pointing out that Lunar Flashlight was a technology demonstration with a new miniaturized propulsion system – meaning it was essentially a test of a new concept. “Technology demonstrations are high-risk, high-reward ventures aimed at pushing the frontiers of space technology,” the agency wrote in the Notice. “Lessons learned from these challenges will help inform future missions that continue to advance this technology.”
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