Lunar IceCube


Lunar IceCube
Lunar IceCube Moon Southern Region.png
Artist's rendering of the Lunar IceCube spacecraft
Mission typeLunar orbiter
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftLunar IceCube
Spacecraft typeCubeSat
Launch mass≈14 kg (31 lb)
Power2 deployable solar arrays
Start of mission
Launch date2021[1]
RocketSLS Artemis 1
Orbital parameters
Reference systemselenocentric
Periselene altitude100 km (62 mi)
Inclination≈90° (polar)
Moon orbiter
BandX band

Lunar IceCube is a planned NASA nanosatellite orbiter mission to prospect, locate, and estimate amount and composition of water ice deposits on the Moon for future exploitation by robots or humans.[2] It will fly as a secondary payload mission on Artemis 1 (formerly known as Exploration Mission 1), the first flight of the Space Launch System, planned to launch in 2021.[1]


The lunar mission was designed by Morehead State University and its partners, the Busek Company, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, and The Catholic University of America (CUA).[3] It was selected in April 2015 by NASA's NextSTEP program ('Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships') and awarded a contract worth up to $7.9 million for further development.[4][2]

The Lunar IceCube spacecraft will have a 6U CubeSat format, and a mass of about ≈14 kg (31 lb). It is one of thirteen CubeSats planned to be carried on board the maiden flight of the SLS, Artemis 1, as secondary payloads in cis-lunar space, in 2021.[1] It will be deployed during lunar trajectory and will use an innovative electric RF ion engine to achieve lunar capture and the science orbit to allow the team to make systematic measurements of lunar water features from an orbit about 100 km (62 mi) above the lunar surface.[2] The Principal Investigator is Ben Malphrus, Director of the Space Science Center at Morehead State University.).[3]


NASA's Lunar Prospector, Clementine, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiters and other missions, confirmed both water (H2O) and hydroxyl (—OH) deposits at high latitudes on the lunar surface, indicating the presence of trace amounts of adsorbed or bound water are present,[5][6][7] but their instruments weren't optimized for fully or systematically characterizing the elements in the infrared wavelength bands ideal for detecting water.[3] These missions suggest that there might be enough ice water at polar regions to be used by future landed missions,[6][7] but the distribution is difficult to reconcile with thermal maps.[5]

Lunar prospecting missions are intended to pave the way toward incorporating use of space resources into mission architectures. NASA's planning for eventual human missions to Mars depends on tapping the local natural resources to make oxygen and propellant for launching the return ship back to Earth, and a lunar precursor mission is a convenient location to test such in situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology.[8]


The science goals are to investigate the distribution of water and other volatiles, as a function of time of day, latitude, and lunar soil composition.[4][2]


Busek's iodine BIT-3 in operation

Lunar IceCube will include a version of the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES) instrument, developed by NASA's GSFC.[3] BIRCHES is a compact version of the volatile-seeking spectrometer instrument onbord the New Horizons Pluto flyby mission.[2]


The tiny CubeSat spacecraft will make use of a miniature electric RF ion engine system based on Busek's 3 centimeter RF ion thruster, also known as BIT-3.[2][9] It utilizes a solid iodine propellant and an inductively-coupled plasma system that produces 1.1 mN thrust and 2800 sec specific impulse from approximately 50W total input power.[9] It will also use this engine for capture into lunar orbit, and orbit adjustments.[2] It is estimated the spacecraft will take about 3 months to reach the Moon.[3]

Flight software

The flight software is being developed in SPARK/Ada by the Vermont Technical College CubeSat Lab.[10] SPARK/Ada has the lowest error rate of any computer language, important for the reliability and success of this complicated spacecraft. It is used in commercial and military aircraft, air traffic control and high speed trains. This is the second spacecraft using SPARK/Ada, the first being the Basic Low Earth Orbit CubeSat[11] also by the Vermont Tech CubeSat Lab, the only fully successful university CubeSat out of 12 on the NASA ELaNa IV Air Force ORS-3 launch.[12]

See also

The 13 CubeSats flying on Artemis 1[13]


  1. ^ a b c Berger, Eric (17 July 2019). "NASA's large SLS rocket unlikely to fly before at least late 2021". Ars Technica. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "MSU's 'Deep Space Probe' selected by NASA for Lunar Mission". Morehead State University. 1 April 2015. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-26.
  3. ^ a b c d e "NASA - Lunar IceCube to Take on Big Mission From Small Package". NASA. SpaceRef. 4 August 2015. Retrieved 2015-08-05.
  4. ^ a b "Lunar IceCube". Gunter's Space Page. 19 May 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-26.
  5. ^ a b Cohen, Barbara A.; Sellar, R. G.; Staehle, R.; et al., eds. (2013). Lunar Flashlight: Mapping lunar surface volatiles using a CubeSat (PDF). Annual Meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (2013). NASA - SSERVI.
  6. ^ a b "Lunar Flashlight". Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. NASA. 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  7. ^ a b Wall, Mike (9 October 2014). "NASA Is Studying How to Mine the Moon for Water". Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  8. ^ "NASA Looking to Mine Water on the Moon and Mars". Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. NASA. 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  9. ^ a b "Busek Ion Thrusters". 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-27.
  10. ^ "CubeSat Laboratory, Software Components". 2017. Archived from the original on 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2017-06-18.
  11. ^ "CubeSat Laboratory, Basic Low Earth Orbit mission". 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-18.
  12. ^ "Past ElaNa CubeSat Launches". 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-18.
  13. ^ Hambleton, Kathryn; Newton, Kim; Ridinger, Shannon (2 February 2016). "NASA Space Launch System's First Flight to Send Small Sci-Tech Satellites into Space". NASA. Retrieved 3 February 2016.