The launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission sent the Orion capsule on a journey to the Moon, in addition to 10 cubesats included as secondary payloads. The upper stage of the Space Launch System successfully deployed the tiny satellites yesterday, but one appears to be malfunctioning.
The Giant Moon Rocket took off on Wednesday at 1:47 a.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, officially kicking off NASA Artemis Moon Program. The rocket skillfully placed the Orion capsule in space for its 25.5-day trip to the Moon and backin a mission that will prepare NASA for future crewed missions to the lunar surface.
But Orion was not alone when he left Earth on this historic journey. A total of 10 low-cost cubesats were hidden inside the SLS upper stage, each designed for different missions to study the Moon, Sun, Earth and a nearby asteroid. After Orion separated from SLS to begin its journey to the Moon, an upper stage adapter sequentially deployed each cubesat using a timer, according to NASA. Cubesats have been developed by various organizations, including the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Four of the CubeSats are dedicated to studies of the Moon: Lunar IceCube, LunaH-Map, OMOTENASHI and LunIR. Southwest Research Institute’s CuSP will track particles and magnetic fields from the Sun, while JAXA’s EQUULEUS will image Earth’s plasmasphere. NEA Scout, a product of the Marshall Space Flight Center, will head for a near-Earth asteroid with the help of a solar sail. BioSentinel is designed to study the effects of deep space radiation on living organisms, while the Team Miles mission will demonstrate a propulsion scheme using plasma thrusters. ESA’s ArgoMoon has already played its part by observing the cryogenic propulsion stage that put Orion on its way to the Moon.
Each cubesat has a different time limit to communicate with its designated ground controllers. So far, six cubesats have sent a signal to mission operators: EQUULEUS, LunIR, CuSP, LunaH-Map, ArgoMoon and BioSentinel, NASASpaceflight first reported.
Unfortunately, JAXA’s OMOTENASHI seems to have a problem. The space agency released a short film statement earlier today saying that EQUULEUS is fine, but OMOTENASHI “hasn’t finished acquiring the Sun”, meaning the small probe hasn’t referenced its position relative to the Sun, which which is necessary for stabilization. Additionally, “communication is not stable,” JAXA added. The space agency “continues operations to stabilize attitude, secure power and establish communication,” the space agency wrote. OMOTENASHI is designed to land on the Moon and explore its surface like the world’s smallest lunar lander— a distinction that will have to wait.
It is unclear how or if the Artemis 1 launch delays affected the cubesats’ electrical loads. Cubesats were packed into SLS a long time ago, and the rocket has suffered numerous delays over the past few months. At a pre-launch press conference on Nov. 14, NASA officials said ground crews were able to reload 4 out of 10 cubesats while SLS sheltered inside the Vehicle Assembly Building due to Hurricane Ian. Officials admitted that an unnamed cubesat had a low state of charge that would impact its ability to accomplish its mission, and that the other cubesats were sufficiently charged.
We will follow the cubesats on their various journeys. Hopefully, OMOTENASHI will come to life and each cubesat will eventually connect with their respective bosses.
After: The next era of human space exploration has just come to life
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