HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – As we prepare to return to the moon, there is still so much to be learned about Earth’s only moon. One of the secondary missions catching a ride on the Artemis I launch, aptly named Lunar IceCube, will help us do just that.
Its mission? To study water on the lunar surface in all of its forms, ice, liquid and vapor, to help scientists determine how it can be used on future exploration missions.
News 19 sat down with Pamela Clark, the science principal investigator for Lunar IceCube, to find out more about their mapping of the moon.
“It’s the first cluster,” she said about the 10 CubeSats chosen to launch on the Space Launch System (SLS). “The idea is to fly a lot of platforms to do a three-dimensional look at a target so you can look at a lot of different areas simultaneously.”
Clark worked at both the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California before signing on at Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky.
Lunar IceCube was built at the university and underwent intensive testing at Goddard to make sure it would survive in the harsh environment of space. Especially, with the temperature fluctuations, the spacecraft will experience in lunar orbit.
The CubeSat’s mission will start about three hours and 40 minutes after the Space Launch System launches from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft about the size of a boot box will deploy and start its journey on its own to the moon.
It will take Lunar IceCube anywhere from 8-9 months to reach the moon. Then once in lunar orbit, it will map the moon constantly for six months getting as close as 62 miles to the lunar surface.
Lunar IceCube had been equipped with an instrument called the Broadband InfraRed Compact High-Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES). This tool will study water in all of its forms at different times of the day and try to understand why it is in certain locations.
“We’re going over the same swaths of the moon at several times of the day,” Clark explained. “We’re looking at the presence of water… to try and model the physics of water on the moon.”
The information learned from Lunar IceCube will be important in future NASA missions as engineers have learned fuel is heavy and expensive. This mission could help future human and robotic missions.
Clark, in addition to her teaching role at MSU, is also the Director of the Star Theater planetarium.
Clark said it was a wonderful experience having students work on the project.
“More than 50 students have helped work on this project,” she said with a smile. “Our students do everything.”
When asked about what it feels like to have a launch date so close she was very practical about her expectations.
“I’m glad that we can finally launch… Keep in mind, and I do all the time, NASA’s history. I’m very aware of NASA’s history, in the beginning, there were a lot of failures. We started with a high failure rate but by the end of the decade, we had a 99% success rate in the program. We had almost no failures which were unheard of,” Clark told News 19. “It’s time to push and make this happen.”
You can keep up with Lunar IceCube and all the other CubeSats launching with the Artemis I mission on our News 19 Artemis page.