NASA’s Moon-observing CubeSat Ready for Artemis Launch

Illustration of NASA’s Lunar IceCube mission investigating lunar ice. (Credit: Morehead State University)

By Katherine Schauer and Danny Baird
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s water-scouting CubeSat is now poised to hitch a ride to lunar orbit. Not much bigger than a shoe box, Lunar IceCube’s data will have an outsized impact on lunar science.

The satellite is integrated into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and ready to journey to the Moon as part of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, launching this year.

Orbiting the Moon, Lunar IceCube will use a spectrometer to investigate lunar ice. Earlier missions revealed water ice on the Moon, but Lunar IceCube will further NASA’s knowledge about lunar ice dynamics.

Scientists are interested in the absorption and release of water from the regolith — the Moon’s rocky and dusty surface. With Lunar IceCube investigating this process, NASA can map these changes as they occur on the Moon.

Lunar IceCube will also study the exosphere — the very thin atmosphere-like volume surrounding the Moon. By understanding the dynamics of water and other substances on the Moon, scientists will be able to predict seasonal changes for lunar ice that could impact its use as a resource in the future.

This will all be achieved from an efficient and cost-effective CubeSat that only weighs 31 pounds. Lunar IceCube is one of several CubeSats catching a ride to the Moon aboard Artemis I. These small satellites, along with future Artemis missions, will increase our knowledge for living and working on the Moon and eventually Mars.

Lunar IceCube is funded by NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program, or NextSTEP, in support of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division within the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. The Lunar IceCube mission is led by Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California; NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia; and Busek Space Propulsion and Systems in Natick, Massachusetts.

Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide

Vega-C lifts off on its maiden flight on July 13, 2022. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the first seven months of the year, five new satellite launch vehicles from Europe, China, Russia and South Korea flew successfully for the first time. As impressive as that is, it was a mere opening act to a busy period that could see at least 20 additional launchers debut around the world.


Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal to Resume on Saturday

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher as it rolls out to Launch Complex 39B for the first time, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ahead of NASA’s Artemis I flight test, the fully stacked and integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will undergo a wet dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 39B to verify systems and practice countdown procedures for the first launch. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — In continued preparations for the Artemis I wet dress rehearsal test, with tanking targeted for Monday, teams encountered an issue maintaining helium purge pressure on the upper stage engine after change-out of a regulator on the mobile launcher. The RL10 engine on the upper stage uses helium to purge the engine and also to activate upper stage valves during wet dress rehearsal operations.

After initial troubleshooting, the team reestablished normal helium purge, and is continuing work to determine the cause of a restriction in the helium flow. Engineers will conduct troubleshooting tomorrow to confirm and characterize system performance. If needed, the mission management team will meet Sunday to disposition any adjustments in the procedures or modifications in test objectives as necessary. After the wet dress rehearsal test, SLS and Orion will return to the Vehicle Assembly Building, and engineers will conduct additional inspections of the related flight systems to further evaluate system performance. The Space Launch System rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and the supporting ground system elements remain in stable condition.

The countdown for the two-day test is currently slated to begin with call to stations beginning at 5 pm EDT on Saturday, April 9 with T-0 planned for 2:40 pm on Monday, April 11. While engineers investigate the issue, teams continue to refine the test schedule to account for insights gained during the previous runs and activities, or test objectives, that were completed earlier this week and no longer need to be included in the next test run, such as configuring ground support equipment. Pending additional analysis, NASA expects to have a forward plan tomorrow for wet dress rehearsal testing.

Check back at this blog for an update on wet dress rehearsal testing for the Artemis I mission. NASA is streaming live video of the rocket and spacecraft on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel. Real-time updates will be provided on the Exploration Ground Systems Twitter account with “go” for tanking.