Artemis I CubeSats will study the Moon, solar radiation

Three additional CubeSats that will ride aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission are installed in the rocket’s Orion stage adapter that will deploy them toward their deep space destinations.

The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH-Map), the CubeSat to Study Solar Particles (CuSP) spacecraft, and LunIR were integrated with their dispensers and installed on the Orion stage adapter along with several other small satellites for the first flight of SLS and Orion. Artemis I provides a rare opportunity for CubeSats, each about the size of a large cereal box, to hitch a ride to deep space. The Orion stage adapter connects the Orion spacecraft to the SLS rocket and will carry the CubeSats and deploy them after Orion departs for its lunar exploration mission.

LunaH-Map, developed by Arizona State University and sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), will measure the distribution and amount of hydrogen throughout the Moon’s South Pole. If successful, the LunaH-Map spacecraft will produce a high-resolution map of the Moon’s bulk water deposits, unveiling new details about the spatial and depth distribution of potential ice previously identified during a variety of missions. Confirming and mapping these deposits in detail will help NASA understand how the water got there, how much water might be available, and how it could potentially serve as a resource for longer exploration missions on the Moon. The CubeSat’s mission is designed to last around 60 days.

A team prepares the LunaH-Map
A team prepares the LunaH-Map before its installation in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once deployed from the rocket, the CubeSat will orbit the Moon for two months while searching for water deposits near the South Pole.
The LunIR undergoes inspection prior to being loaded in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter for the Artemis I mission on July 14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During lunar orbit, the satellite will use an infrared sensor to map the Moon’s surface and search for potential landing sites and critical resources for future missions to Mars and beyond.

LunIR was developed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, and sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division under the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The CubeSat will conduct a lunar flyby and use an advanced miniature infrared sensor to gather images and data about the lunar surface and its environment. This effort will help collect data to address knowledge gaps related to transit and long-duration exploration to Mars and beyond. The CubeSat will collect data about the lunar surface, including material composition, thermal signatures, presence of water, and potential landing sites. LunIR’s infrared sensor will be able to map the Moon during both day and night and can collect data at much higher temperatures than similar sensors, thanks to an innovative micro-cryocooler – similar to a refrigerator – designed to reach cryogenic temperatures below minus 234 degrees Fahrenheit.

CuSP will be deployed for an interplanetary mission to study the particles and magnetic fields that stream from the Sun. CuSP was developed by the Southwest Research Institute , NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and is also sponsored by NASA’s SMD. This CubeSat will orbit the Sun with three instruments to measure incoming radiation and the magnetic field that can create a variety of effects on Earth, such as interfering with radio communications, tripping up satellite electronics, and creating electronic currents in power grids. CuSP can observe events in space hours before those events potentially reach Earth.

Team CuSP cheers on the solar CubeSat prior to loading it in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Team CuSP cheers on the solar CubeSat prior to loading it in the Space Launch System rocket Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s super heavy-lift capability and send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into deep space. The agency is also taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.