LUMIO: New CubeSat Traking Lunar Impacts

The Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer (LUMIO), a new CubeSat that will illuminate lunar impacts, is proceeding to the next phases of its development

Last week the European Space Agency approved the next stage of the Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer (LUMIO) CubeSat mission, which means it could be ready for launch as early as 2027.

LUMIO mission upgraded roadmap. Credits: ASI
LUMIO mission upgraded roadmap. Credits: ASI/LUMIO Collaboration

LUMIO is an ESA mission that aims to create a model of lunar meteoroid impact occurrence by observing flash impacts on the lunar far side; the objective is not limited to the Moon, these models will also help to prevent impacts on Earth.

The mission is supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Norwegian Space Agency (NOSA) under ESA’s General Support Technology Program (GSTP) Fly Element. Another key contributor is the Polytechnic University of Milan (Polimi) which is playing a key role in the development of optical instruments and data analysis.


Scientific importance of the LUMIO mission

The Earth-Moon system is constantly bombarded by a large number of meteoroids of various sizes, mostly fragments of asteroids and comets that come from the planetary formation era.

The flux of meteoroid impacts on the lunar surface is similar to that of the Earth. Furthermore, observing the occurrence of lunar impact events provides information about the velocities and the temporal and spatial distribution of these objects in the Solar System. This information can be used to increase the confidence of meteoroid models obtained from at least 50 years of Earth-based meteor shower observations. 

Lunar impact GIF. Credits: NELIOTA project
Lunar impact GIF. Credits: NELIOTA project

Earth-based optical observations of the light flashes produced by lunar meteoroid impacts have already revealed to be useful in the validation and improvement of meteoroid models. However, Earth-based lunar observations are limited by weather, geometric, and illumination conditions. As such, LUMIO will improve the rate of lunar impact observations by observing for longer periods of time. In addition, being closer to the lunar surface, this CubeSat will be able to detect smaller impacts, potentially smaller than millimeters in size.

By helping to create models of occurrence, the mission will be useful in understanding the effects of these meteor showers on future rovers or lunar habitats in terms of damage to equipment in space or on the lunar surface.


Mission Profile

The mission is divided into four well-defined phases. Each phase is carefully planned and executed to ensure that LUMIO achieves its scientific objectives while demonstrating advanced spaceflight capabilities and key technologies for future lunar exploration missions. The following figure shows the mission profile of LUMIO.

Overview of LUMIO mission. credits: LUMIO collaboration
Overview of LUMIO mission. Credits: LUMIO collaboration

The first is the parking phase, during which the spacecraft is placed in a selenocentric orbit and undergoes initial commissioning over a period of 14 days.

This is followed by the transfer phase with the Stable Manifold Injection Maneuver (SMIM), which will move LUMIO to its destination at the L2 point for another 14 days.

Then, the operative phase begins with the Halo Injection Maneuver (HIM), which will place the satellite in its operational orbit. Over a year, LUMIO will execute its scientific missions while performing stationkeeping maneuvers to maintain its orbit. This is the main phase of the mission, during which the CubeSat will observe and quantify meteoroid impacts on the lunar surface. The spacecraft will follow a quasi-periodic halo orbit around the L2 point of the Earth-Moon system, allowing for continuous observations always facing the lunar far side under optimal lighting conditions.

LUMIO CubeSat operative orbit. Credits: ASI
LUMIO CubeSat operative orbit. Credits: ASI/LUMIO Collaboration

Finally, the mission will conclude with an end-of-life phase during which LUMIO will perform a final maneuver to safely decommission the spacecraft.


Tech aspects and objectives

LUMIO is a 12U form factor CubeSat carrying the LUMIO-Cam, an optical instrument capable of detecting light flashes in the visible spectrum and continuously monitoring and processing the data.

The LUMIO-Cam operates in the spectral range between 450 nm and 950 nm and can take synchronized images in two different spectral bands, which allows it to avoid false positives and to estimate the equivalent blackbody temperature generated by impact flashes.

During the annual Geminid meteoroid shower, this camera could detect more than 6000 impact flashes.

LUMIO illustration Credits: ASI-POLIMI
LUMIO illustration Credits: ASI/POLIMI

In addition to modeling meteoroid showers, LUMIO has several technical objectives. The two main ones are to demonstrate the deployment and autonomous operation of CubeSats in the lunar environment, including localization and navigation aspects, and to demonstrate the miniaturization of optical instruments and related technology in the lunar environment.

There are many other objectives, such as conducting autonomous navigation experiments using images of the Moon, demonstrating CubeSat trajectory control capabilities in the lunar environment, demonstrating the use of miniaturized optical payloads in the lunar environment, and more.

One day, the data obtained by this mission could be vital in designing the next era of lunar missions, enabling the selection of some lunar sites over others, the selection of the right periods, and the definition of defensive strategies for future lunar log-term inhabitants.


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Daniele Parozzi

Daniele Parozzi

Mechanical Engineering student at Politecnico di Milano. Passionate about space and astrophotography, check out some of my shots on Instagram @dp.astrophotography.

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