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.
Two more secondary payloads that will travel to deep space on the Artemis I mission were integrated for launch on July 23, and another is ready for installation at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The satellites – called CubeSats – are roughly the size of a large shoe box and weigh no more than 30 pounds. Despite their small size, they enable science and technology experiments that may enhance our understanding of the deep space environment, expand our knowledge of the Moon, and demonstrate new technologies that could be used on future missions.
OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) and ArgoMoon, which will both study the Moon, were integrated with their dispensers and installed on the Orion stage adapter along with seven other payloads for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s first flight. A third payload, the BioSentinel CubeSat is the only CubeSat that will contain a biological experiment on Artemis I and will be the first CubeSat to support biological research in deep space. The team placed it in its dispenser for the flight, and to preserve its biological contents, it is being kept in a controlled environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At a date closer to launch, it will be placed in the Orion stage adapter.
OMOTENASHI was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). While OMOTENASHI is one of several Artemis I secondary payloads that are studying the Moon, it is the only one that will conduct a controlled landing on the Moon’s surface. Its primary objective is to test the technologies and trajectory maneuvers that allow a small lander to land on the Moon while keeping its systems – including power, communication, and propulsion systems – intact. Testing these systems around and on the Moon can help with development of similar small landers that could explore other planets. The spacecraft will also measure the radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit, providing data that will help develop technologies to manage radiation exposure for human exploration. If successful, OMOTENASHI will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface and will mark Japan as the fourth nation to successfully land on the Moon.
ArgoMoon, developed by Italian company Argotec and sponsored by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Italy’s national space agency, will perform autonomous visual-based proximity operations around the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), the in-space stage of SLS, that provides the propulsion to send Orion on a lunar trajectory. The CubeSat will use high-definition cameras and advanced imaging software to record images of the ICPS and later of the Earth and the Moon for historical documentation, provide mission data on the deployment of other CubeSats, and test optical communication capabilities between the CubeSat and Earth. ArgoMoon will use a hybrid micropropulsion system (MiPS) that combines green mono-propellant and cold gas propulsion in a single system to provide attitude control and orbital maneuvering using a small amount of power.
The enhanced attitude capabilities are also used to run and validate artificial intelligence-based algorithms for autonomous Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery systems that perform continuous monitoring of the health of the satellite to detect any potential fault. In the case of fault detection, this service performs several operations to solve the problem. If the fault is not recoverable, the satellite goes in safe mode, which means that only the functionalities to keep the satellite alive and to communicate with ground are used.
ArgoMoon’s mission is a forerunner of technologies for deep space application that can be used for inspection of satellites not originally designed to be serviced, without the involvement of the ground segment.
BioSentinel will be the first long-duration biology experiment to take place in deep space and will be among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Its primary objective is to measure the impact of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit.
Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, BioSentinel will enter an orbit around the Sun via a lunar flyby. The experiment will use yeast as a “living radiation detector” to evaluate the effects of ambient space radiation on biology. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair.
The payload carries dry yeast cells stored in microfluidic cards – custom hardware that allows for the controlled flow of extremely small volumes of liquids that will activate and sustain the yeast. These yeast-filled cards are situated alongside a physical radiation detection instrument – developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – that measures and characterizes the radiation environment. Results from the physical instrument will be compared to the payload’s biological response. After completing a lunar flyby and spacecraft checkout, the yeast will be rehydrated at various points during the six-month mission. As yeast cells activate in space, they will sense and respond to the radiation damage.
Experiments using the BioSentinel instruments will also take place on the International Space Station and on the ground to demonstrate how varied amounts of radiation affect the yeast. While Earth-bound research has helped identify some of the potential effects of space radiation on living organisms, no terrestrial source can fully simulate the unique radiation environment of deep space. BioSentinel’s data will provide critical insight on the effects of deep space radiation on biology as NASA seeks to establish long-term human exploration of the Moon under Artemis and prepare us for human exploration on Mars.
SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond low Earth orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first two CubeSats are aboard for the Artemis I mission as secondary payloads that will conduct a range of science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space.
In preparation for their missions, Lunar IceCube and Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout have been integrated with their dispensers and installed in the Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Housed in the spaceport’s Space Station Processing Facility, the Orion stage adapter connects the top of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Orion spacecraft. The small satellites, roughly the size of large shoeboxes and weighing no more than 30 pounds, enable science and technology experiments that may enhance our understanding of the deep space environment, expand our knowledge of the Moon and beyond, and demonstrate technology that could open up possibilities for future missions. The payloads will deploy from the rocket after the Orion spacecraft separates from the rocket’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that provides the propulsion to send Orion to the Moon.
NEA Scout will be the first CubeSat to travel to an asteroid. The small payload was developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. NEA Scout will be propelled by a square-shaped solar sail that will measure about 925 square feet (86 square meters) when unfurled. The sail is made of an aluminum-coated plastic film that is thinner than a human hair, with an area about the size of a racquetball court. NEA Scout is outfitted with a high-powered camera that will take photographs of and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid that represents asteroids that may one day become destinations for human exploration. Observations will include the asteroid’s position in space, its shape, rotational properties, spectral class, and geological characteristics. NEA Scout’s mission will take approximately two years.
Lunar IceCube will search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the Moon. It was developed by Morehead State University in Kentucky, Busek Space Propulsion and Systems of Massachusetts, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, JPL, and NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. Once deployed, the CubeSat will take up to nine months to arrive at its destination and begin orbiting the Moon. Using state-of-the-art miniature electric thrusters for propulsion and relying on gravity assists from Earth and the Moon, Lunar IceCube will search for water and other materials in ice, liquid, or vapor states that may be useful for future exploration missions. Once in orbit, Lunar IceCube’s mission could last one to six months and the ground station at Morehead State will be used to track the CubeSat for the duration of the mission.
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 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.