Two cubesats from the Artemis 1 mission will study lunar water ice

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Two cubesats from the Artemis 1 mission will study lunar water ice

The mission Artemis 1which is scheduled to launch on August 29, will serve as a test for NASA’s return to the Moon. This mission will indeed have as main objective to test the rocket SLS or Space Launch Systemthe capsule Orionbut also the ground system located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But this trip around the Moon will also be an opportunity for 10 cubesats to study the lunar environment.

Among these 10 small satellites that will be sent into space by the SLS rocket, there are 2 which were designed to study water ice on the Moon. These are the probes Lunar IceCube and Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper or LunaH-Map.

Lunar IceCube
Credits Morehead State University

To be able to stay on the Moon for a long period, it is crucial to have water ice reserves available. They can indeed be used to obtain oxygen, but also fuel.

Lunar IceCube

The Lunar IceCube probe is a cubesat that weighs 14 kg. It is being developed by the Morehead State University in Kentucky. According to information, Lunar IceCube will carry an instrument from the NASA whose name is BIRCHES or Broadband Infrared Compact High-Resolution Exploration Spectrometer. The role of this instrument will be to map the water on the surface of the Moonbut also in the exosphere which is the thin layer of gas that surrounds our satellite.

Apart from searching for water, Lunar IceCube will also be used to testing a new ion thruster. According to NASA, this thruster “runs on electricity and uses small amounts of fuel to produce small thrusts and drive the spacecraft along its path, like the wings of a butterfly”.


For its part, the small LunaH-Map satellite will study South Pole areas of the Moon previously identifiedand who are potential reservoirs of water ice. The cubesat weighs 13.6 kg and is being developed by Arizona State University.

During a mission scheduled to last 60 days, the LunaH-Map satellite will use two neutron spectrometers to map hydrogen deposits near the lunar surface, that is to say less than 1 m deep. This includes sediments in regions that are permanently in shadow. According to NASA, the result of this study will be the most detailed water ice map of the lunar South Pole ever created.

All the data that will be collected by the secondary payloads of the SLS rocket will contribute to future missions to the Moon and beyond. As explained by Cliff Brambora who is the chief engineer of the BIRCHES instrument, “everything we can learn from the Moon is precious”.


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