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Lunar Flashlight Mission Failure: Debris Blocks Propellant Lines, NASA Reveals

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight mission failed to reach lunar orbit due to blocked propellant lines caused by debris, according to recent findings.

Lunar flashlight mission failed due to debris blocking propellant lines (Photo: NASA)

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight mission encounters setback due to blocked propellant lines, leading to the lunar cubesat’s unfortunate demise.

NASA has attributed the failure of the Lunar Flashlight cubesat mission to blocked propellant lines, preventing the lunar flashlight spacecraft from achieving lunar orbit. The issue was reportedly caused by debris blocking the lines, disrupting the lunar flashlight spacecraft’s thrusters — Interesting Engineering.

At the 37th Annual Small Satellite Conference, NASA’s Celeste Smith and Nathan Cheek from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shared insights into the mission’s challenges. Only one of the four thrusters, thruster four, remained operational, despite efforts to restore full functionality to the others.

Despite initial success in performing trajectory correction maneuvers using a single thruster on the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, the ninth attempt resulted in zero thrust, rendering thruster four unusable. An alternative approach involving thruster three for lunar flybys also ended in failure, preventing the Lunar Flashlight from achieving its intended orbit.

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The incident underscores the complexities of space exploration and the challenges posed by technical glitches, shedding light on the continuous pursuit of scientific discovery beyond Earth.

In an article by Space News, further investigation indicated that sintered titanium particles, dislodged from the interior of propellant lines due to launch vibrations, were likely the debris responsible for the thruster blockage. These particles hindered the spacecraft’s maneuvering capabilities and ultimately led to mission failure.

Despite the mission’s setback, NASA remains positive about its outcome. Chris Baker, program executive for small spacecraft technology programs, emphasized that Lunar Flashlight still contributed valuable lessons to the agency’s exploration efforts.

Although Lunar Flashlight didn’t reach lunar orbit, it successfully demonstrated new systems, including the laser reflectometer science instrument, the Sphinx flight computer designed for deep space radiation, and the upgraded Iris radio.

While Lunar Flashlight’s primary objective wasn’t achieved, the mission exemplifies the importance of technology demonstrations in advancing space exploration. NASA’s commitment to learning from setbacks and applying gained knowledge to future missions highlights the agency’s resilience and dedication to exploration progress.

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