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Friday, December 16, 2022

Launching a Lunar Flashlight

 Looking for ice and other components of a longer stay on other worlds. 

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Launches to Shine a Light on Lunar Ice

By Ryan Whitwam on December 14, 2022  in ExtremeTech

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted into space in the wee hours of Dec. 11. Its main cargo was the HAKUTO-R lunar lander from Japan’s Ispace, but NASA had a fascinating little ride-along payload on the rocket, too. The agency’s Lunar Flashlight mission is now en route to the moon, where it will search for water in regions that haven’t seen sunlight for billions of years.

The Lunar Flashlight is a compact 6U CubeSat, sporting mostly off-the-shelf hardware like a conventional lithium-ion battery and HaWK solar panels. There’s also a flashlight of sorts, as the name implies. It’s actually an infrared spectrometer that emits light in four different wavelengths. We already know there is frozen water on the moon, but the Lunar Flashlight aims to create a more accurate map of its distribution. It will scan the shadowy depths of craters where sunlight has never reached, mostly in the higher latitudes.

When shined on the lunar surface, the infrared lasers will bounce back after striking regolith. However, water ice will absorb light and give away its presence. Locating an accessible supply of ice on the moon could be a boon to future missions, which could use lunar water to make fuel for a return trip to Earth or a trip to the outer solar system.

The Lunar Flashlight is currently meandering its way to the moon, but it’s not using standard hydrazine fuel, which is highly toxic. Instead, NASA is testing the Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT) monopropellant. The Lunar Flashlight should reach the moon in about four months, and when there, it will use its green engine to enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), making it just the second spacecraft to do so. The first was NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission, which proved this novel orbit was workable earlier this year.  ,,, ' 

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