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 Space Launch System’s upper stage successfully deployed the tiny satellites yesterday, but one of them appears to be malfunctioning.
The jumbo Moon rocket took off on Wednesday at at 1:47 a.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, officially kickstarting NASA’s Artemis Moon program. The rocket skillfully placed the Orion capsule in space for its 25.5 day journey to the Moon and back, in a mission that will prepare NASA for future crewed missions to the lunar surface.
But Orion wasn’t alone when it left Earth for this historic trip. A total of 10 low-cost cubesats were tucked inside the SLS upper stage, each designed for different missions to study the Moon, Sun, Earth, and a nearby asteorid. After Orion separated from SLS to begin its journey towards the Moon, an upper stage adapter sequentially deployed each cubesat using a timer, according to NASA. The cubesats were 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 the Sun’s particles and magnetic fields, while JAXA’s EQUULEUS will image Earth’s plasmasphere. NEA Scout, a product of Marshall Space Flight Center, will head to a near-Earth asteroid with the assistance of a solar sail. BioSentinel is designed to study the effects of deep-space radiation on living organisms, while the Team Miles mission will demo a propulsion scheme using plasma thrusters. ESA’s ArgoMoon has already done its part, as it observed the cryogenic propulsion stage that set Orion on its course towards the Moon.
Each cubesat has a different timeframe for communicating 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 be experiencing an issue. The space agency put out a short statement earlier today saying EQUULEUS is a-okay, but that OMOTENASHI “has not completed sun acquisition,” meaning the tiny probe hasn’t referenced its position relative to the Sun, which is needed for stabilization. What’s more, “communication is not stable,” JAXA added. The space agency is “continuing operations to stablise attitude, secure power and establish communication,” the space agency wrote. OMOTENASHI is designed to land on the Moon and explore its surface as the world’s smallest lunar lander—a distinction that will have to wait.
It’s not clear how or if the Artemis 1 launch delays affected the cubesats’ electrical charges. The cubesats were packed into SLS a long time ago and the rocket endured many delays over the past few months. During a pre-launch press conference on November 14, NASA officials said ground crews were able to recharge 4 out of 10 cubesats while SLS took shelter inside the Vehicle Assembly Building on account of Hurricane Ian. The officials did admit that one unnamed cubesat had a low state of charge that would impact its ability to achieve its mission, and that the other cubesats were sufficiently charged.
We’ll be following the cubesats on their various journeys. Hopefully OMOTENASHI will spring to life and that each cubesat will eventually sign in with their respective bosses.