A NASA CubeSat, called the Lunar Flashlight, which was launched into space on December 11, 2022, has managed to demonstrate several new technologies, but has failed to orbit the Moon. Because of the latter, the briefcase-sized craft has been unable to fly over the Moon’s South Pole to help locate water ice and now faces an uncertain future as it gradually recedes from Earth.
Among the successes of the Lunar Flashlight, its on-board computer stands out. This computer, Sphinx, is very low power consumption and was designed by NASA to withstand radiation from deep space.
On the other hand, the Iris radio system, equipped with a new high-precision navigation capability, has shown that it can be used by small spacecraft to approach each other from great distances and to land on low-gravity celestial bodies of our own. Solar system.
The miniaturized laser reflectometer, a scientific instrument that has never flown on a mission before, has also been successfully tested, showing that it would have been able to detect ice on the lunar surface if it were present there.
Where the Lunar Flashlight has failed is in its propulsion system. Many of the components of this system have shown excellent performance, but the total thrust produced was less than necessary, probably as a result of an accidental blockage in the fuel lines.
Artist’s impression of the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft in the vicinity of Earth and the Moon. (Image: NASA JPL/Caltech)
After having traveled beyond the Moon, Lunar Flashlight was inching closer to Earth until it reached a minimum distance of about 65,000 kilometers on May 17. Since then, it has moved away from our planet again. The CubeSat follows an orbit around the Sun and its next visit to the vicinity of Earth will be in November 2037.
Except for the aforementioned problem in the propulsion system, the other systems work well and the spacecraft remains in contact with the mission control center on Earth. Although the primary mission is over, NASA may assign Lunar Flashlight a new mission, tailored to its current capabilities. (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)