NASA continues to troubleshoot Moon-bound spacecraft's propulsion system

Devdiscourse News Desk | California | Updated: 24-03-2023 22:22 IST | Created: 24-03-2023 11:15 IST
NASA continues to troubleshoot Moon-bound spacecraft's propulsion system
Image Credit: Twitter (@NASAJPL)

Back in December 2022, NASA launched a small satellite, Lunar Flashlight, on a four-month journey to the Moon to seek out surface water ice at the lunar South Pole. Shortly after the launch, three of the four thrusters were discovered to be underperforming and the mission team attempted a modified maneuvring technique that would use the one fully-functioning thruster to get the spacecraft into the planned orbit. Unfortunately, the only functional thruster also experienced a rapid loss in performance.

The operations team is still working on ways to restore the partial operation of one or more thrusters to keep the spacecraft in an orbit that would allow flights over the Moon's South Pole.

"They have had some success but continue to try new things to clear the suspected obstructions in the thruster fuel lines. They have until the end of April to generate the required thrust to preserve the opportunity to allow for monthly flybys of the lunar South Pole," NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

Lunar Flashlight's miniaturized propulsion system is a technology demonstration that has never been flown in space before. The tiny spacecraft is fuelled with a new kind of green propellant - a low-toxic alternative to the commonly used monopropellant hydrazine.

It is worth mentioning that other systems on Lunar Flashlight are performing well and the mission has successfully completed all of its technology objectives.

“Though we hoped the propulsion system would perform perfectly, encountering and responding to these issues is an expected part of a technology demonstration mission like this,” said Justin Treptow, deputy program executive for the Small Spacecraft Technology program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

To achieve its key science goals, Lunar Flashlight will employ an energy-efficient near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), which will take the briefcase-size SmallSat within 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the Moon's South Pole. 

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