The Team Miles and EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) CubeSats are tucked into dispensers and installed in the Orion stage adapter – the ring that connects Orion to the SLS rocket. They are joining five other secondary payloads that were recently installed. These small satellites, known as CubeSats, will conduct a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations. The CubeSats will deploy after the Orion spacecraft separates from SLS.
Developed by Miles Space in partnership with software developer Fluid & Reason, LLC, the Team Miles CubeSat will travel to deep space to demonstrate propulsion using plasma thrusters, a propulsion that uses low-frequency electromagnetic waves. The CubeSat was developed as part of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge and sponsored by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program. The team, composed of citizen scientists and engineers, came together through the nonprofit Tampa Hackerspace in Florida to develop Team Miles. The group considers itself a team of “makers,” who are open to trying technologies that may fall outside of engineering norms.
Team Miles’ mission will be flown autonomously by a sophisticated onboard computer system. In addition, the breadbox-sized spacecraft will use a software-defined radio for communications with Earth. If successful, the CubeSat will travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 59.6 million miles (96 million kilometers) – before ending the mission. (For comparison, the minimum distance from Earth to Mars is around 34 million (54 million) kilometers.)
EQUULEUS, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, will travel to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, an Earth-Moon orbit where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Moon equal the force required for a small object to move with them. The CubeSat will demonstrate trajectory control techniques within the Sun-Earth-Moon region and image Earth’s plasmasphere, a region of the atmosphere containing electrons and highly ionized particles that rotate with the planet.
EQUULEUS will measure the distribution of the plasmasphere, providing important insight for protecting humans and electronics from radiation damage during long space journeys. The CubeSat will also measure meteor impact flashes and the dust environment around the Moon, providing additional important information for human exploration. EQUULEUS will be powered by two deployable solar arrays and batteries, propelled by a warm gas propulsion system with water as the propellant.
SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit and demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability. The agency is 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.