the galleys move on, NASA loses contact with the capsule


Orion is finally okay, but Japan had to cancel its small lander’s mission. A hydrogen fighter satellite also remains on the sidelines.

[Article du 23/11 mis à jour le 24/11 pour intégrer la perte de contact de la capsule Orion]

On November 16, the SLS finally lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to officially launch the first mission of the Artemis program; a great success that cheered up the NASA forces after the many postponements of this long-awaited flight. But those who thought the agency was finally at the end of its troubles may be disappointed; the Orion capsule really scared the engineers.

In a press release dated Wednesday, November 23, NASA announced that it had lost contact with the Orion capsule. The incident occurred after the reconfiguration of a connection between the vehicle and the Deep Space Network, an antenna array designed to communicate with space vehicles. Before that, the link in question had already been reconfigured several times since its launch without any problems.

The good news, everything was back to normal 47 minutes later. For now, the cause of this malfunction remains unknown; NASA is working on it and hopes to shed light on this situation. Fortunately, this does not affect the rest of the mission. The Orion capsule appears intact and remains on track.

This is probably a great relief for NASA teams. Indeed, the capsule’s turn is expected tomorrow. It must launch a maneuver that will consist of accelerating to complete its insertion into the moon’s retrograde orbit. If NASA had failed to reestablish contact by that deadline, the capsule could have drifted off course, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the rest of the mission and the Artemis program.

Japanese micro-lander in a coma

But not all the machines that got off the ground aboard the SLS got off so lightly. Because of the ten small satellites that benefited from the trip around the moon in the company of the Orion capsule, two experienced significant technical problems.

The first is OMOTENASHI. It is a small craft built in Japan that was intended to land directly on the surface of our satellite. It would begin its descent maneuver on November 21, when the squadron flew past the moon at low altitude (see our article).

But at the time of the firing, the operators of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) had the unpleasant surprise that the machine was more or less in a coma; they failed to establish communication.

The exact cause of this failure is still unclear. Early data suggested the probe was in a state of rapid, uncontrolled rotation. Otherwise, the solar panels would be badly positioned, preventing OMOTENASHI from producing the energy essential for its operation – just like Capstone did during his journey to the moon (see our article).

Based on this assumption, the ground crew attempted to eject some of the fuel to stabilize the probe, but were unsuccessful; they were forced to put the transmitter on standby to save the last reserves of electricity.

This failure of the alarm clock had serious consequences. OMOTENASHI completely missed his ideal transfer window. And right now she doesn’t have enough reserves to pull off another maneuver. Dead in the soul, JAXA therefore had to give up his project. ” Communication could not be established with the vehicle and it was determined that the landing maneuver could not be performed ‘ said the office Twitter.

The good news is that the cubesat’s current orbit is relatively stable; it will remain near the moon for some time. The owners therefore let him sleep for a few months in the hope that he will regain his strength. Hopefully he can serve on another mission in the spring of 2023.

A stuck valve on a hydrogen hunter satellite

In addition to OMOTENASHI, another cubesat called LunaH-Map also experienced problems. It is designed to study the distribution of hydrogen near the moon’s south pole. However, this element is an indicator very often associated with the presence of water ice. It is therefore a very important undertaking for the work on extraterrestrial life, but also for our satellite’s future colonization missions.

Like OMOTENASHI, LunaH-Map would launch its first positioning maneuver during the November 21 flyby. But when it was time to fire, the propellant remained completely inert. According to NASA, this was not a communication problem; the machine responded perfectly to the requests of the ground crew. The most likely explanation is that a valve in the propulsion system got stuck.

Again, this setback had a significant impact on the satellite’s mission; for now it has not been able to position itself in the orbit from which it would operate. NASA does not explain how it plans to do this. But the future prospects of this device still seem better than that of its catatonic counterpart. The formulas used in the press release suggest that the agency is relatively confident.

All is not lost for LunaH-Map

If the propulsion systems manage to produce thrust in the coming months, it may still be possible to recover some of the mission’s science data. “explains the agency. “ On the vehicle’s current path, alternative orbits are available to reach the lunar orbit – including orbits that allow low-altitude measurements of the surface “, specifies the press release.

In the event that the outage takes too long to put LunaH-Map into lunar orbit, NASA has proposed an alternate plan; it will eventually be able to redirect the probe to certain asteroids to see if they contain hydrogen and ice. A mission much less interesting than the original, but which will at least partially make the satellite profitable.

Artemis: The SLS has departed, the great moon reconquest has begun!

At least the other 8 cubesats are doing well and should be able to complete their respective missions as planned. The Orion capsule is also on the right track; on November 25, it should normally complete its insertion into the famous retrograde orbit, which will allow it to go around the moon. All that remains is to cross our fingers so that everything goes well until his return to Earth. This is scheduled for December 11.

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