Lunar Flashlight

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Lunar Flashlight
Lunar Flashlight nanosatellite
Mission typeLunar orbiter
COSPAR ID2022-168B Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.54697Edit this on Wikidata
Mission durationIn Orbit: 1 year, 3 months and 29 days
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftLunar Flashlight
Spacecraft typeCubeSat
Bus6U CubeSat[1]
ManufacturerJet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
Launch mass>14 kg
Start of mission
Launch date11 December 2022, 07:38:23 UTC
RocketFalcon 9 Block 5
Launch siteCape Canaveral Space Force Station SLC-40
End of mission
Last contactMay 2023
Orbital parameters
Reference systemHeliocentric
Capacity>10 kbps [2]

Lunar Flashlight was a low-cost CubeSat lunar orbiter mission to explore, locate, and estimate size and composition of water ice deposits on the Moon for future exploitation by robots or humans.[1][3][2][4][5][6]

The spacecraft, of the 6U CubeSat format, was developed by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT), and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.[4] It was selected in early 2015 by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) for launch in 2022 as a secondary payload for the Artemis 1 mission, though it missed the integration window to be included on the mission.[7] Lunar Flashlight was remanifested to launch as a rideshare with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 on a Falcon 9 Block 5. The launch took place on 11 December 2022.[8]

A failure of the craft's propulsion system resulted in Lunar Flashlight being unable to enter orbit around the Moon and NASA terminated the mission on May 12, 2023.[9][10] The spacecraft has since been abandoned in a solar orbit after flying by Earth on May 17 for a coincidental gravity assist.


NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiters and other missions discovered in 2009 both water (H2O) and hydroxyl (—OH) deposits at high latitudes on the lunar surface, indicating the presence of trace amounts of adsorbed or bound water are present.[3] These missions suggest that there might be enough ice water at polar regions to be used by future landed missions,[5][6] but the distribution is difficult to reconcile with thermal maps.[3]

Lunar prospecting missions are intended to pave the way toward incorporating use of space resources into mission architectures. NASA's planning for eventual Human mission to Mars depends on tapping the local natural resources to make oxygen and propellant for launching the return ship back to Earth, and a lunar precursor mission is a convenient location to test such in situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology.[11]

The mission concept was developed by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and proposed to NASA's FY2014 Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) call.[3][4] The mission was selected for funding in early 2015.[5][12]

Spacecraft design[edit]

In its original conception, the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft would have been a 6U CubeSat format or bus propelled by an 80 m2 solar sail that would also have functioned as reflector to illuminate some selected permanently shadowed areas on the Moon,[5] while an onboard infrared spectrometer measured the reflected spectrum diagnostic of surface compositional mix among rock/dust, regolith, water ice, CO2, methane ice (CH4), and possibly ammonia ice (NH3).[3][2][5] The illuminated spot would have been about 400 m (1,300 ft) in diameter, reflected from an altitude of 20 km (12 mi).

In the final design, the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft includes two sets of solar arrays. One set delivered by Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) which deploys upon release from the dispenser and another delivered by MMA which use a burnwire deployment mechanism. The Command and Data Handling is provided via the JPL-developed Sphinx processor with flight software written using the JPL-developed FPrime software framework. The on-board radio is an Iris radio developed by JPL and build by Space Dynamics Laboratory. The attitude determination and control system (ADCS) for the spacecraft is provided by a BCT XACT-50. The spacecraft includes a chemical propulsion system to provide the impulse needed for Lunar Orbital Insertion (LOI). This propulsion system was designed and built by Georgia Tech’s Glenn Lightsey Research Group in collaboration with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Finally, the science instrument payload is a compact Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) Laser reflectometer.[13]

Overview and objectives[edit]

The goal of Lunar Flashlight is to determine the presence or absence of exposed water ice and its physical state, and map its concentration at the 1-2 kilometer scale within the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar south pole.[4][14][15] The mission will be one of the first CubeSats to reach the Moon, and the first mission to use lasers to look for water ice.[1] Any polar volatile data collected by Lunar Flashlight could then ensure the most appropriate landing sites for a more expensive rover to perform in situ measurements and chemical analyses.[5] The spacecraft will maneuver to its lunar polar orbit and use its near infrared lasers to shine light into the shaded polar regions, while the on-board spectrometer measures surface reflection and composition.[1] Barbara Cohen from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is the principal investigator.[4]

Scientific payload[edit]

Lunar Flashlight after integration

The proposed payload on this nanosatellite is an infrared spectrometer, consisting of a lens, dichroic beam splitters and multiple single-element detectors. It occupies 2 of the 6 modules of the 6U CubeSat bus.[3] The attitude control system (Blue Canyon Technologies' XACT-50), command and data handling, and power systems will occupy 1.5U; the Iris telecom system will occupy 0.5U.[2]

The Lunar Flashlight payload is derived from a few predecessor systems, including JPL's INSPIRE (Interplanetary Nano-Spacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment), MARCO (Mars Cube One) and JPL's experience with spectrometers, including the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3).[1] The 6U CubeSat bus will use mostly commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components such as the lithium ion batteries, the CPU board, HaWK solar panels produced by MMA Design LLC, star tracker and 3-axis reaction wheels for attitude control.[3] The CPU is a "Rad-Tol Dependable Multiprocessor".[2] JPL will provide the Iris transponder that provides timing, navigation and telecommunication in the X band,[3] which is to be monitored with the NASA Deep Space Network.[2]

Spacecraft design and trajectory[edit]

The Lunar Flashlight spacecraft was ejected from the Falcon 9 second stage after trans-lunar injection, after which it used a Sun sensor and solar panels to power the 3-axes reaction wheels. It also featured a chemical monopropellant propulsion and orientation system built by the Georgia Tech Space System Design Laboratory. The propulsion system occupied 3U of volume including 2 kg of AF-M315E monopropellant,[16] a less toxic monopropellant being used in lieu of hydrazine. The intricate propellant management unit was fabricated using additive manufacturing.[16][17]

Thruster problems[edit]

During the first few days of flight (December 2022), it was found that 3 of the 4 thrusters were underperforming. As of January 2023 the mission team was working to remedy the problem.[18] Limited success was achieved with the other 3 thrusters by May 2023.[19]


The spacecraft was planned to be the second to use a near-rectilinear halo orbit, the first being the CAPSTONE mission.[17] The original concept proposed a trajectory that would target multiple lunar flybys, and possibly include an Earth gravity assist; it would have been captured into a lunar polar orbit one or two months after launch, depending on the selected trajectory.[3]

Animation of Lunar Flashlight
Around the Earth
Frame rotating with Moon - Viewed from Earth
  Lunar Flashlight ·    Earth ·    Moon

See also[edit]

The 10 CubeSats that flew in the Artemis 1 mission
The 3 CubeSat missions that were not loaded onto Artemis 1


  1. ^ a b c d e "Lunar Flashlight Mission Information". JPL (NASA). April 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hayne, P. O.; Cohen, B. A.; B. T., B. T. (21 March 2016). Lunar Flashlight: Illuminating the Moon's South Pole. 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cohen, Barbara A. (2013). Lunar Flashlight: Mapping lunar surface volatiles using a CubeSat (PDF). Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (2013). NASA. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b c d e "NASA TechPort: Lunar Flashlight Project". NASA TechPort. NASA. 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Lunar Flashlight". Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). NASA. 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ a b Wall, Mike (9 October 2014). "NASA Is Studying How to Mine the Moon for Water". Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  7. ^ Ohana, Lavie (3 October 2021). "Four Artemis I CubeSats miss their ride". Space Scout. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  8. ^ Rosenstein, Sawyer (11 December 2022). "SpaceX launches Falcon 9 carrying private Japanese moon lander". NASASpaceFlight. Retrieved 11 December 2022.
  9. ^ Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA Calls End to Lunar Flashlight After Some Tech Successes". NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  10. ^ Foust, Jeff (9 August 2023). "Clogged propellant lines doomed NASA lunar cubesat mission". SpaceNews. Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  11. ^ "NASA Looking to Mine Water on the Moon and Mars". Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). NASA. 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. ^ Misra, Ria (2 February 2016). "NASA's New Mission to Mars Will Include a Giant Laser "Lunar Flashlight"". Gizmodo. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  13. ^ Cheek, Nathan; Gonzalez, Collin; Adell, Phillippe; Baker, John; Ryan, Chad; Statham, Shannon; Lightsey, E.; Smith, Celeste; Awald, Conner; Ready, Jud (8 August 2022). "Systems Integration and Test of the Lunar Flashlight Spacecraft". Small Satellite Conference.
  14. ^ "LUNAR FLASHLIGHT: MAPPING LUNAR SURFACE VOLATILES USING A CUBESAT" (PDF). Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (2014). 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  15. ^ Cohen, Barbara (2016). "CubeSat for investigating ice on the Moon". SPIE Newsroom. doi:10.1117/2.1201601.006241. ISSN 1818-2259. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Lunar Flashlight Propulsion System". Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  17. ^ a b JPL/NASA (28 November 2022). "NASA's Lunar Flashlight SmallSat readies for launch".
  18. ^ JPL/NASA. "NASA's Lunar Flashlight Team Assessing Spacecraft's Propulsion System". Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  19. ^ Team Continues to Troubleshoot Propulsion for NASA's Lunar Flashlight 9 May 2023