Sailing to the Moon In Search of Water

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Sailing to the Moon in Search of Water is a game changer for manned and unmanned missions to moon and beyond. Water is a critical substance for life and propellant. Currently we do not understand the sub-surface of the moon. NASA Ames LCROSS crashed a probe in the moon's south pole and detected water vapor. In late 2024 a rover mission called VIPER will investigate the south pole. The current methodology suffers from infrequent missions, high costs, high risks and limited sample sizes.

What is needed is a means to frequently sample large areas to document lunar layers . Current Earth stratum is surveyed by passive seismic sensing By using a network of sensors, timing differences of low frequency events indicate the presence of minerals water and oil.

Enabling work from Cornell University’s Space Systems Design Studio (SSDS) has yielded the Femto Spacecraft. These tiny voyagers are small size and light weight. 50mm square, 2 mm thick and 2,5 gm weight, less than a US Cent! The current generation device is Internet of Things (IoT) compatible and can communicate from space to ground. Their flight heritage includes Femto Spacecraft remaining functional after 2 years of low earth orbit space, being deployed in orbit as a 100 unit circular network swarm, surviving a 25,000 g simulated lunar impact, being deployed inside the ISS, and are scheduled for an atmospheric analysis drop from above the Karmen line. Because of their diminutive characteristics, the Femto Spacecraft is ideal for a light sail. Alpha sail using 4 Femto Spacecraft is scheduled for launch in 2025.

Meeting the challenge

Leveraging the legacy of these programs is FLEA (Femto Lunar Exploration Apparatus), a low cost mission to deliver multiple passive seismic sensors on the lunar surface at greater frequency and in areas that have poor earth ground station coverage such as the poles and far side of the moon. There are 3 main components to the system: a Mother ship that carries 4 solar sails, the self navigating sails that can communicate greater than 2,000 KM, and the Femto Landers which carry a 6 axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The Femto Landers can communicate several hundred KM.

The 6U Mother Ship is carried to orbit. On orbit the sails are deployed. Traveling to and from the moon the sails will take advantage of the lunar and solar phase. On approach to the moon the sail will release the FLEAs to create a pattern on the lunar surface. The spin stabilized FLEAs land by impact on the surface and operate at any landed orientation. Overflight of the sails will calibrate and receive information from the FLEAs. This information can be sent to earth via large antennas or the sails could return to earth for a fly by data transfer to an IoT network.

AI toolkit

AI generated Python scripts are used to iterate sail orbital trajectories and ballistic landing profiles for the FLEAs. An AI PID camera sail navigator is being investigated.



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  • Name:
    Andrew Filo
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