A tiny satellite will begin scanning the permanently dark craters of the Moon in the next few weeks in search of water ice reserves that could be of highly beneficial to astronauts.
The Japanese Hakuto-R lander and the United Arab Emirates’ Rashid 1 rover are set to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets between November 9 and 15. NASA’s Lunar Flashlight, which is about the size of a compact suitcase.
Although it is known that there is water below the lunar regolith, it is unknown whether surface ice frost covers the floors inside these chilly craters. There is also no way to discover out unless there is some source of light source because they are near the poles, where the Sun never rises above crater rims.
And that is exactly what the SmallSat wants to do: utilise lasers to illuminate on the dark craters at the lunar South Pole.
According to a statement from the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, John Baker, “this launch will place the satellite on a trajectory that will take about three months to reach its science orbit.” Then Lunar Flashlight will attempt to locate water ice on the Moon’s surface in locations where no one else has been able to search.
A near-rectilinear halo orbit is followed by the second NASA mission
Fuel-intensive orbits are not possible because the Lunar Flashlight only carries a small amount of propellant. Mission controllers will direct the spacecraft past the Moon, where it will settle into a “wide, looping, science-gathering orbit.”
A near-rectilinear halo orbit uses far less fuel than traditional orbits and “will take it 42,000 miles (70,000 kilometres) from the Moon at its most distant point and, at its closest approach, the satellite will graze the surface of the Moon, coming within nine miles (15 kilometres) above the lunar South Pole,” according to the release.
According to Barbara Cohen, principal investigator for Lunar Flashlight at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, “the reason for this orbit is to be able to come in close enough that Lunar Flashlight can shine its lasers and get a good return from the surface, but to also have a stable orbit that consumes little fuel.”
A reflectometer will detect the presence of water
Several landmarks will be reached by Lunar Flashlight: It will be the first interplanetary spaceship to employ an alternative, “green” propellant to those typically used in space, including hydrazine. The former, which was created by the Air Force Research Laboratory, will be safer to transport and store. It is referred to as a monopropellant since it burns using a catalyst rather than needing an additional oxidizer.
The spacecraft will also be the first mission to search for water ice on the Moon using a four-laser reflectometer. In order to detect ice on the surface, the reflectometer will use near-infrared wavelengths that are easily absorbed by water. Interestingly, the lasers’ light will reflect inside the spaceship when they strike a bare rock, signalling the absence of ice. If the light is absorbed, ice is present in the black craters.
“For the first time, we will make definite surface water ice observations in permanently shaded places,” Cohen added. “We’ll be able to link Lunar Flashlight’s data with those of other lunar missions to determine how extensive that water is and whether it may be utilised as a resource by future explorers.”