Water ice, or lunar water, is the first evidence that water could exist on the moon and was confirmed to be on the moon by NASA in 2018.
Principal investigator on the project and professor Craig Hardgrove, along with an ASU team, developed a neutron detector that will be integrated with the Neutron-1 3U CubeSat mission led by Lloyd French, a program manager for University of Hawaii at Manoa and co-founder of the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory.
The neutron detector allows researchers to map neutron abundances in low earth orbit as part of the LunaH-Map mission. The detector will also assist in UHM's mission to study neutrons while testing its own efficacy for its intended mission.
The CubeSat mission will orbit the Earth to study neutrons with the assistance of Hardgrove's device. The neutron detector allows Hardgrove and his team to map neutron abundances in low earth orbit as part of the LunaH-Map mission, which helps researchers map current and future environments.
“Over the last decade or more NASA has identified these regions on the moon that have enrichments of ice, and neutron detectors play an important part in identifying the poles as the really special regions for where the ice is concentrated,” Hardgrove said.
The LunaH-map will fly close to the surface of the moon and map distribution of water ice trapped within the south pole’s shadowed regions. This water ice could be used as fuel through a process called electrolysis for NASA’s Artemis mission to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, according to Hardgrove.
Hardgrove said the three-year collaboration was built when NASA told UHM they would give them a launch opportunity if the team built another CubeSat.
Hardgrove and his team found that working on the CubeSat mission moved their development ahead because it has fewer constraints than the LunaH-Map satellite.
The CubeSat is heavily stocked with technology to communicate with researchers on Earth. The spacecraft is said to deploy in late November or early December, and it will send data to determine if the neutron detector is functioning properly. When it arrives in its orbit some time between January and February 2021, the CubeSat will then begin sending neutron data to researchers.
The duration of the mission remains unknown because the spacecraft doesn’t have a propulsion system.