NASA ends Lunar Flashlight mission because of thruster problems

Photo: NASA (Fair Use)

NASA has terminated the mission of a cubesat designed to orbit the moon due to propulsion system issues that prevented it from reaching its intended destination.

The Lunar Flashlight mission, launched five months ago, was unable to achieve its planned polar orbit around the moon because of a propulsion system malfunction that limited its thrust capabilities.

After identifying the problem shortly after its December 2022 launch, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked diligently to troubleshoot the issue, Space News reported.

They suspected that debris obstructing the propellant lines was causing a reduction in propellant flow to the thrusters.

In a final attempt to clear the obstructions, NASA increased fuel pump pressures well beyond operational limits while manipulating valve openings and closings.

This technique yielded some inconsistent success, generating increased levels of thrust in one of the spacecraft’s four thrusters.

Despite these efforts, the spacecraft could not maintain its position near the moon.

Mission planners had already ruled out placing it in a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon but had hoped to achieve a distant Earth orbit that would allow for monthly flybys of the moon.

Unfortunately, due to the persistent challenges, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has decided to conclude the Lunar Flashlight mission, as reported by Space News.

While the cubesat’s orbit around the moon was not achieved as intended, the valuable insights gained from this mission will contribute to future lunar exploration endeavors.

Written by staff