Technicians have loaded the last of 10 CubeSats into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s five-foot-tall Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After the Orion spacecraft separates from the SLS rocket for a precise trajectory toward the Moon, the shoebox-sized payloads are released from the Orion stage adapter to conduct their own science and technology missions.
SLS’s main goal for the Artemis I mission is to successfully send the uncrewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit where it can test out critical spacecraft systems and then return to Earth testing the spacecraft’s heat shield at lunar reentry speeds. The Orion stage adapter connects the rocket to Orion and contains room inside the adapter to provide a rare opportunity to send the CubeSats to deep space using extra lift-capacity on the uncrewed mission. The CubeSats will study everything from the Moon to asteroids to the deep space radiation environment. Each CubeSat provides its own propulsion and navigation to get to various deep space destinations.
Nine of the ten CubeSats were loaded into the adapter earlier this summer. The last CubeSat to be placed aboard was BioSentinel, the sole CubeSat among this group of satellite payloads that contains a living microorganism, and which was refrigerated until loading in order to preserve its biological contents as long as possible for the mission. BioSentinel’s primary objective is to detect and measure the effect of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit. A similar experiment is being carried out on the International Space Station so that research teams can compare radiation effects experienced on the station about 250 miles above Earth to those encountered in deep space near the Moon, more than 240,000 miles away.
Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Loma Linda University Medical Center, and the University of Saskatchewan, It is among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair, and BioSentinel’s experiments can help us better understand the radiation risks for long-duration deep space human exploration.
Progress continues to complete stacking for the Artemis I mission and check out the integrated hardware operations. The team recently successfully completed two complex tests: the Umbilical Retract and Release Test and the Integrated Modal Test. Next, the Artemis I Orion stage adapter with the secondary payloads will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and added to complete stacking of the rocket. Then, the Orion spacecraft will be stacked on top of the rocket to complete the Artemis I spaceship. Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to send astronauts to the Moon for long-term exploration that sets the stage for human missions to Mars.