Calamities and recoveries in space – updated
This week has seen a calamity on the way to the Moon, an almost successful Moon landing and the reconnection with the NASA helicopter on Mars.
The first flight of NASA’s commercial lunar delivery service carrying agency science and technology, as well as other customer payloads intended for the Moon, came to an end in a fiery re-entry late on Thursday.
Japan also became the fifth country to send a lander to the Moon, joining the US, Russia, China and India. While the SLIM lander reached the surface and released two rovers, it tumbled over and has run out of power.
The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars is now out of service after 72 flights,
Astrobotic was the first commercial vendor to launch a mission to the Moon as part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) programme under the agency’s Artemis campaign. There are seven additional CLPS deliveries awarded to multiple American companies, with more awards expected this year and for years to come.
The next CLPS commercial flight is targeted for February.
The SLIM mission by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA landed safely on the lunar surface at the weekend, but has been confirmed to have toppled over. The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) successfully landed on the moon surface on Saturday and communication was established after the landing. However, the solar cells are currently not generating power, and priority is given to data acquisition from the SLIM on the moon.
Detailed analysis of the acquired data will be conducted in the future, says Jaxa. The LEV-1 rover was released and sent pack an image of the SLIM lander on its side. This meant the solar panels could not deploy and charge the batteries, and the lander ran out of power yesterday. The rover has its own link back to the Earth,
Peregrine made it to the same orbit as the Moon after a successful launch and separation from the rocket on January 8th, but a propulsion issue from a stuck valve meant that the Moon was no longer there.
Four out five NASA payloads on Peregrine successfully powered on and collected data while in flight. NASA science teams are currently working to interpret the results. Preliminary data suggests the instruments have measured natural radiation and chemical compounds in the area around the lander.
The team eeked out the propulsion, re-orienting the spacecraft to get the maximum energy from the solar cells for 10 days and 13 hours before a controlled re-entry on Earth over open water in the South Pacific. This was to avoid leaving more space debris in orbit.
“Space exploration is a daring task, and the science and spaceflight data collected from Astrobotic’s lunar lander is better preparing NASA for future CLPS deliveries and crewed missions under Artemis,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The future of exploration is strengthened by collaboration. Together with our commercial partners, NASA is supporting a growing commercial space economy that will help take humanity back to the Moon, and beyond.”
“Astrobotic’s Peregrine mission provided an invaluable opportunity to test our science and instruments in space, optimizing our process for collecting data and providing a benchmark for future missions,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The data collected in flight sets the stage for understanding how some of our instruments may behave in the harsh environment of space when some of the duplicates fly on future CLPS flights.”
Despite the failure, NASA says it is committed to supporting its US commercial vendors in sending science and technology to the surface of the Moon.
Astrobotic is now looking at what happened before it launches its Griffin lander to transport NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the south pole of the moon.
Griffin is scheduled for launch in November, at a similar time to the second Hakuto iSpace mission from Japan.
“The effect it would have on the Griffin mission depends on the findings,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. “It’s a relatively short period of time from today in January until the end-of-year Griffin mission, so we will not want to rush the findings. VIPER is a very visible, very sophisticated and costly payload,” he said. “We want to make sure we really understand the root cause and contributing factors of what happened on Peregrine.”
There could have been a third calamity.
Earlier in the week NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter executed its 72nd flight at the Red Planet. The flight was designed as a quick pop-up vertical flight to check out the helicopter’s systems, following an unplanned early landing during its previous flight.
Data from the helicopter to the Perseverance rover which acts as a relay indicates it successfully climbed to its assigned maximum altitude of 12m (40ft).
During its planned descent, communications between the helicopter and rover terminated early, prior to touchdown. The Ingenuity team has been analyzing available data and has managed reestablish communications with the helicopter by instructing the rover to perform long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity’s signal.
Pictures from Perseverence showed damage to rotor blades, and Ingenuity was taken out of service after 72 flights. The helicopter was only designed for five flights and has so far completed 128.3 flying minutes, covering 10.6 miles (17.0 km) and reaching altitudes as high as 78.7 ft (24.0 m)