In this artist’s concept, the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, which is the size of a briefcase, uses its near-infrared lasers to shine light into shadowy polar regions on the Moon in search of water ice.NASA/JPL/Caltech is working on the mission’s new “green” propulsion system and a new strategy for getting the briefcase-sized satellite to the Moon.

On December 11, 2022, the Lunar Flashlight mission of NASA launched successfully to begin its four-month journey to the Moon. There, the SmallSat, a small satellite, will test a number of new technologies with the intention of searching for hidden surface ice at the lunar South Pole. The mission operations team has discovered that three of the SmallSat’s four thrusters are not working properly, despite the fact that the satellite is generally in good health and communicating with NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Three days after launch, the reduced thrust was first noticed by the NASA mission team.

Who are currently analyzing the situation and offering potential solutions. The propulsion system of Lunar Flashlight has been operating for pulses of up to a few seconds at a time during its cruise. The team believes, based on ground testing, that fuel lines obstructions may be limiting propellant flow to the thrusters, resulting in the underperformance.

NASA/JPL/Caltech The team plans to operate the thrusters for much longer periods of time in the near future in order to correct the SmallSat’s trajectory and keep it on track to reach its planned orbit around the Moon. They also hope to clear any potential fuel line obstructions in the thrusters.To reach lunar orbit in about four months, Lunar Flashlight will need to perform daily trajectory correction maneuvers beginning at the beginning of February.

The briefcase-sized SmallSat will use a new laser reflectometer with four near-infrared lasers to detect surface ice by swooping low over the Moon’s surface.

The reflectometer will shine light into the permanently darkened craters at the lunar South Pole. At its farthest point, it will be 43,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) away from the lunar South Pole, which is 9 miles (15 kilometers) away.

Additionally, some of the NASA teams that assisted the SmallSat in reaching its intended orbit are contributing their expertise to the solution of Lunar Flashlight’s thruster issues. CAPSTONE also encountered difficulties on its way to the Moon.

Infographic of Gateway’s singular near-rectilinear halo orbit, NRHO.

Lunar Flashlight is the first interplanetary spacecraft to use a new type of “green” propellant, called Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT), which is safer to transport and store than common propellants like hydrazine. It is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The mission’s primary objective is to demonstrate this technology for potential use in the future. A previous NASA technology demonstration mission was used to test the propellant successfully in Earth orbit.

The never-before-flew Sphinx flight computer, developed by JPL as a low-power, radiation-tolerant option for SmallSats, and other systems on Lunar Flashlight are performing well.

The NASA-managed More About the Mission Lunar Flashlight is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Caltech division in Pasadena, California. Graduate and undergraduate students at Georgia Tech operate the SmallSat. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is in charge of the Lunar Flashlight science team, which also includes members from a number of other institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles; Laboratory for Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University; and the Colorado State University.

Plasma Processes Inc. (Rubicon) developed the thruster, Flight Works developed the pump, and Beehive Industries (formerly Volunteer Aerospace) developed specific 3D-printed components with funding from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Additionally, the Air Force Research Laboratory made monetary contributions to the creation of the Lunar Flashlight’s propulsion system. The Small Spacecraft Technology program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate provides funding for Lunar Flashlight.

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