Fly Me to the Moon: Space Drones Will Aid Search for Lunar Water

Drone technology is nothing new to all of us down here on Earth. The recreational quadcopters you might see hovering above your local park will soon be joined by Amazon and Wal-Mart delivery drones zipping by to bring online shoppers their orders. Drones will also be exploring the oceans in the near future. Now researchers are working on taking drones where they’ve never gone before: the moon.

In 2018, a miniature, box-shaped spacecraft known as the LunaH-Map will head to the moon. Its mission: to orbit the poles in search of hydrogen, which may indicate the presence of water. Ice, surprisingly, can be used for rocket fuel, meaning that this discovery could make the moon a perfect first stop for interplanetary travel.

The LunaH-Map is a CubeSat, or mini-satellite, with more to offer than any of its predecessors. Cubesats have only been used to orbit the Earth in the past, whereas the LunaH-Map will have the ability to “propel itself across the void of space and make course corrections.” To add these features, researchers not only had to rethink CubeSats, but spacecrafts in general.


LunaH-Map mission to the Moon – SESE – Arizona State University from Arizona State University on Vimeo.


“This project with LunaH-Map,” explains scientist, astronomer, and LunaH-Map researcher Jim Bell, “ is unprecedented in its scale — on the tiny end of the scale.”

Creating a hybrid of past-CubeSats and full size, self-propelled spacecrafts forces scientists to design tiny, functional parts that won’t fail. While larger spacecrafts have room for back-up parts in case something fails, this won’t be an option for the LunaH-Map. If this project is a success, the technology will be applied to a CubeSat mission to Mars called MarCo, or Mars Cube One.

The team behind LunaH-Map is comprised of professors and students from Arizona State University. The school is a leader in space exploration research and has produced projects such as Dr. Ariel Anbar’s innovative Habitable Worlds program, which, “explores the formation of stars, planets, Earth, life, intelligence, technological civilizations.”

Time will tell if the LunaH-Map will be a failure, or one giant leap for drone-kind.

Photo credit: Arizona State University