NASA Continues Efforts to Save Moon CubeSat Designed for Water Exploration

NASA is still working to salvage the cubesat called Lunar Flashlight that is intended for water research. The spacecraft is part of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program. It ran into issues not long after launch in December 2022. The spacecraft found it difficult to fly over the South Pole of the Moon. This was caused by three of its four thrusters operating at reduced efficiency due to clogged fuel lines.

NASA experts have been working nonstop to partially repair one or more of the Flashlight’s thrusters. This will fix the problem. The mission team must provide the thrust necessary to make monthly flybys of the lunar South Pole by the end of April. The team has achieved some success. However, they keep trying new approaches to remove the suspected clogs in the thruster fuel lines, according to NASA.

A briefcase-sized satellite called the Lunar Flashlight is intended to cast infrared light on some of the permanently dark regions of the Moon. The aim is to look for ice water reserves. It may be because the spacecraft is employing a new propulsion technology. Due to its lack of prior space usage, the technology faced challenges when attempting to enter lunar orbit.

The mission’s main goal, according to NASA, is to investigate how well this innovative propulsion technology actually works in space. Notwithstanding its difficulties, the Lunar Flashlight mission was able to accomplish all of its technological goals.

It was originally planned for the Lunar Flashlight to use its lone unhindered thruster to enter a nearly rectilinear halo orbit. It was necessary for NASA to endeavor to put the probe in a high Earth orbit.This was after the sole engine faced problems with its performance. The probe’s ability to examine the Moon’s south pole for water ice would then be reduced from once a week to once every month.

The updated strategy is in place, but the Lunar Flashlight is still having trouble putting itself into lunar orbit. The NASA crew is optimistic that they can find a solution within the next month. Failing to achieve success would mean that the shadowed parts of the Moon will remain a mystery for the foreseeable future.

As part of a technology demonstration mission like this one, problems will inevitably arise. This was stated by according to Justin Treptow, who works as the deputy program executive in charge of the Small Spacecraft Technology program at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The primary goal of the mission will only be achieved after the propulsion system has undergone flight testing, evaluation, and troubleshooting.

Complexity Of Earth’s Inner Core May Have Been Underestimated by Researchers

The NASA-launched New Horizons Pluto Probe spacecraft passed past Pluto almost eight years ago. However, it continues to produce new scientific findings. New Horizons flew by Pluto during its approach, bringing the dwarf planet’s icy surface within 7,800 miles (12,500 km) of Earth. The New Horizons team presented its most recent findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). LPSC was held on March 14, 2023, both physically and virtually. The first of the three new findings explained Pluto’s flip’s beginning. Pluto had turned on its side in the past, just like Earth. However, scientists were unsure of how much it has changed its orientation.

The development of Sputnik Planitia comprises a 620-mile-wide basin filled with nitrogen ice that comprises half of the famous heart-shaped region on Pluto. It has instead been credited by a team of researchers as the cause of the flip. Researchers discovered parallel mountain ranges as well as deep valleys. They constitute what they think is a worldwide tectonic system by following the course of Pluto’s flip using photos from the flyby of New Horizons. Yet, none of the terrains that are currently visible to scientists are in their original positions. This is because Pluto has previously changed its orientation. Instead, these features probably started along Pluto’s equator. Later, they moved to their present places closer to the poles as a result of the flip.

The second finding made public during the meeting is that Pluto’s far side is covered in enormous amounts of methane ice that resemble knives. These methane deposits were first discovered by New Horizons close to Pluto’s equator. Several of these are as tall as Earth’s skyscrapers, 

The most recent investigation examined the effects of viewing angles on the light reflected from surfaces. It was done using photos captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard New Horizons. Because the surfaces were “rougher than typical roughness of Pluto,” they discovered similar methane absorption characteristics there. Methane freezes out of Pluto’s thin atmosphere at such altitudes during cold spells and evaporates back into gas form during warm times.

The third and concluding find showed that the components of the snowman-like Arrokoth item were assembled gradually over time. The farthest object ever explored by a spacecraft, Arrokoth. This is a tiny object in the Kuiper Belt, which was passed by New Horizons on January 1, 2019. The most recent research demonstrates that Wenu, is the larger of the two lobes that make up Arrokoth. Later, it evolved from rocks that already existed in the solar system’s outermost regions.

Due to its distance from the sun, which puts it in a “deep freeze,” the larger lobe is the most primitive item that has been studied. It consists of a cluster of 12 boulders crowded around a larger slab. The discovery made by the New Horizons team is unexpected. It adds another piece to the puzzle of how planetesimals, or tiny space objects, like Arrokoth and other objects in the Kuiper Belt, came to be.

First Images of Leaky Soyuz Spacecraft Damage Released by Russia

The first pictures showing the external damage behind the radiator leak aboard a Soyuz spacecraft docked at the International Space Station were made public by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, on Monday, February 13. Roscosmos claims that a meteoroid strike was what caused the damage, and the organization is still looking into the matter. A camera on the manipulator in the US section of the ISS was used in taking pictures of the hole in the thermoregulation system of the ship’s radiator.

The leak was discovered on December 14. This made the launch of a new Soyuz spacecraft, MS-23, to be delayed until March 2023. Meanwhile, while the situation was being investigated. This delay comes after another coolant leak on the Progress 82 robotic cargo spacecraft. The leak was discovered two days before the photographs were made public.

The Soyuz MS-22 sent NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin to the International Space Station in September. It poses no threat to the station or its crew, according to NASA program officials, despite the leak. However, the ISS partners are still trying desperately to find an answer to this issue.

Astronauts cannot be flown back to Earth on the leaking Soyuz MS-22 unless there is an emergency aboard the station. Prokopyev and Petelin will return in the MS-22 if an evacuation is required prior to the arrival of MS-23. Rubio, on the other hand, is going to have to travel on a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The SpaceX Dragon capsule can only hold four additional astronauts. It is considered to be a dangerous idea to have a third person aboard the coolant-less Soyuz during the scorching ascent through Earth’s atmosphere.

Originally, the Soyuz MS-23 was planned to launch from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in February. It will replace the problematic MS-22, which has been postponed until March. Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin’s missions won’t likely be greatly impacted by the short delay. This is because they were already expected to spend twice as much time on the ISS.

Following the mishap, NASA and SpaceX are in talks to increase shielding on the latter’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Crew-6, the following SpaceX personnel mission to the ISS, is slated to launch on February 26.

The incident serves as a reminder of the significance of routine maintenance and examinations of spacecraft. In addition, it highlights the necessity of emergency procedures and backup plans in the event of unplanned mishaps. To protect the safety of astronauts and crewmembers, it is crucial to maintain a high degree of attention and preparation as space exploration and travel become more widespread.