Lunar IceCube
Artist's rendering of the Lunar IceCube spacecraft
Mission typeLunar orbiter
OperatorMorehead State University / NASA
COSPAR ID2022-156C Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.55903
Mission duration1 year, 2 months and 9 days
(In Orbit)
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftLunar IceCube
Spacecraft typeCubeSat
Bus6U CubeSat
ManufacturerMorehead State University
Launch mass14 kg (31 lb)
Dimensions10 cm x 20 cm x 30 cm
Power2 deployable solar panels
Start of mission
Launch date16 November 2022, 06:47:44 UTC[1]
RocketSLS Block 1 / Artemis 1
Launch siteKSC, LC-39B
End of mission
Last contactNovember 16, 2022
Orbital parameters
Reference systemLunar orbit
RegimePolar orbit
Periselene altitude100 km (62 mi)
Moon orbiter
Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES)

Lunar IceCube is a NASA nanosatellite orbiter mission that was intended to prospect, locate, and estimate amount and composition of water ice deposits on the Moon for future exploitation.[2] It was launched as a secondary payload mission on Artemis 1 (formerly known as Exploration Mission 1), the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), on 16 November 2022.[1][3] As of February 2023 it's unknown whether NASA team has contact with satellite or not.[4]


The lunar mission was designed by Morehead State University and its partners, the Busek Company, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), and The Catholic University of America (CUA).[5] It was selected in April 2015 by NASA's NextSTEP program (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) and awarded a contract worth up to US$7.9 million for further development.[6][2]

The Lunar IceCube spacecraft has a 6U CubeSat format, with a mass of about 14 kg (31 lb). It is one of ten CubeSats carried on board the maiden flight of the SLS, Artemis 1, as secondary payloads in cis-lunar space, in 2022.[3] It was deployed during the lunar trajectory, and was intended to use an innovative electric RF ion engine to achieve lunar capture to an orbit about 100 km (62 mi) above the lunar surface, to make systematic measurements of lunar water features.[2] The principal investigator is Ben Malphrus, Director of the Space Science Center at Morehead State University.[5]


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, but their instruments weren't optimized for fully or systematically characterizing the elements in the infrared wavelength bands ideal for detecting water.[5] These missions suggest that there might be enough ice water at polar regions to be used by future landed missions, but the distribution is difficult to reconcile with thermal maps.

Thus, thee science goals were to investigate the distribution of water and other volatiles, as a function of time of day, latitude, and lunar soil composition.[6][2]


The cubesat was launched on November 16, 2022[1] on the Space Launch System "Artemis 1" launch. The vehicle successfully communicated with the ground after deployment on Nov. 17,[7] but on Nov. 29 2022, NASA announced that the mission team was “continuing its attempts to communicate with the CubeSat so that it can be placed into its science orbit in the coming days.”[8] The site has not been updated since, and the status of the spacecraft is unknown.[4]



Lunar IceCube carried a Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES) instrument, developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).[5] BIRCHES is a compact version of the volatile-seeking spectrometer instrument onboard the New Horizons Pluto flyby mission.[2]


Iodine BIT-3 (Busek Ion Thruster) in operation

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 seconds specific impulse from approximately 50 watts 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.[5]

Flight software

The flight software was developed in SPARK/Ada by the Vermont Technical College Cubesat Laboratory.[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 BasicLEO CubeSat [10] also by the Vermont Technical College CubeSat Laboratory, the only fully successful university CubeSat out of 12 on the NASA ELaNa-IV launch on U.S. Air Force Operationally Responsive Space-3 (ORS-3) mission.[11]

See also

The 10 CubeSats flying in the Artemis 1 mission
The 3 CubeSat missions removed from Artemis 1


  1. ^ a b c Roulette, Joey; Gorman, Steve (16 November 2022). "NASA's next-generation Artemis mission heads to moon on debut test flight". Reuters. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  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 9 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b Clark, Stephen (12 October 2021). "Adapter structure with 10 CubeSats installed on top of Artemis moon rocket". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  4. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (17 February 2023). "Deep space smallsats face big challenges". SpaceNews. Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e "NASA - Lunar IceCube to Take on Big Mission From Small Package". SPACEREF. 4 August 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2021.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b "Lunar IceCube". Gunter's Space Page. 18 May 2020. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  7. ^ tweet, Nov 17, 2022, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  8. ^ tweet, Nov 29, 2022, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  9. ^ a b "Busek Ion Thrusters". Busek. 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  10. ^ a b "CubeSat Laboratory, Software Components". CubeSat Laboratory. 17 October 2016. Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  11. ^ "Past ElaNa CubeSat Launches". 1 March 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.