CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WHNT) – Throughout the Apollo missions to the moon, all of the landings focused on areas near the equator. Now, on the first Artemis mission, a tiny satellite called LunaH-Map will be focusing on what things look like at the moon’s south pole.
The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper was one of 10 CubeSats chosen to fly aboard the Space Launch System’s (SLS) first fully integrated flight. These small satellites are helping with large science goals.
News 19 sat down with LunaH-Map Principal Investigator Craig Hardgrove to learn more about the CubeSat and its mission to the moon. The University of Tennessee graduate has been with the project from the very beginning.
“We’ve known for a while now that there is ice at the poles on the moon,” Hardgrove said.
He explained previous missions have used scientific tools to take readings of hydrogen deposits, showing where water probably is, but LunaH-Map will help visually show what those areas look like. It will provide details on those areas such as how deep the water deposits are and how wide.
LunaH-Map has a neutron spectrometer onboard which the rest of the spacecraft has been built around. The spectrometer is about the size of a tissue box while all of LunaH is about the size of a large cereal box.
Hardgrove explained the project was first thought of about seven years ago when scientists wanted to know more about the ice at the lunar south pole.
“It’s been this mystery for over a decade or so, sort of where is the ice at the South Pole is it all in these super dark permanently shadowed craters or is it elsewhere that might be more easily accessible for people,” he said. “That’s helpful for future exploration and it’s also helpful for understanding where all the ice came from the first place.”
The readings from the neutron spectrometer will help the team and NASA map the hydrogen deposits on the moon, to “see” where water-ice deposits below the lunar surface.
Hardgrove explained that the findings from LunaH can also help with studying the poles on Mars.
“So, if we see there’s more hydrated stuff at the poles, and that’s the coldest place, so it’s likely gonna be ice… You can see the poles of Mars stick out as these ice-rich places and so that’s how it that’s how you use it for finding water,” he said of potential results.
The spacecraft is deploying from Artemis I’s Orion Stage Adapter about five and a half hours after launch. It will then take over a year for LunaH-Map to be in the ideal lunar orbit for the mission, which at times will bring it within 5 miles of the lunar surface.
LunaH-Map will take its readings of the south pole while it orbits the moon 141 times over two months. At the end of the mission, to avoid any potential damage to a future lunar mission, the spacecraft will crash into the moon.
“Both of my children were born after LunaH-Map was selected and LunaH feels like a third child,” Hardgrove said with a laugh. “I’m only a professor at ASU because LunaH-Map was selected and they wanted to keep the mission here… I got to train students, it’s a really special thing.”
He added that watching it launch will be a culmination of all these years of hard work but he is also looking forward to being able to take a vacation for the first time in a long time.
You can keep up with LunaH-Map and all the other CubeSats launching with the Artemis I mission on our News 19 Artemis page.