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Final prelaunch underway for NASA Artemis I mission, ASU hydrogen detector

NASA's Artemis I mission is slated to begin rolling toward its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, where it is scheduled to lift off on Aug. 29.

A cargo of small research satellites called CubeSats — including one from ASU — will be hitching a ride.

So what's the size of a Shetland Sheepdog and can sniff out hydrogen on the moon?

The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper, or LunaH-Map, will orbit within five to 12 miles of the lunar surface and detect neutrons that have interacted with lunar hydrogen.

For mission lead Craig Hardgrove of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, it's the culmination of more than seven years' work.

"This is really like a third child. So sending it off to the moon, getting to see it have a chance of completing its mission, is really a special thing," he said at a NASA news teleconference Monday.

LunaH-Map can't tell if the hydrogen it detects comes from water, but the molecule's presence will provide a valuable hint of where to look.

Hardgrove says the form factor of CubeSats is tiny and challenging, but he hopes these missions lead to bigger things.

"I hope that the success of many of these CubeSats on Artemis I demonstrates that there should be future technology investment in propulsion systems and all the technologies that make these spacecraft go," he said.

In LunaH-Map's case, that consists of solar panels and iodine-powered ion thrusters.

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.