NASA has disclosed a portion of the payload for the upcoming launch of the Space Launch System, a next-gen heavy rocket being developed with Boeing and others.
The Space Launch System’s first flight will carry 13 research CubeSats and an unmanned Orion spacecraft into separate orbits sometime in 2018. The launch vehicle eventually will be used in deep-space exploration missions.
Boeing is developing the SLS’ more than 200-foot core stage, while Aerojet Rocketdyne will provide its engines.
In its first mission, the SLS will launch the miniature satellites into deep-space orbit for use in science and technology experiments.
“The 13 CubeSats that will fly to deep space as secondary payloads aboard SLS on EM-1 showcase the intersection of science and technology, and advance our journey to Mars,” NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman said.
Added Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems: “The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit. This rocket has the unprecedented power to send Orion to deep space plus room to carry 13 small satellites — payloads that will advance our knowledge about deep space with minimal cost.”
Several CubeSats to be included in the SLS payload were selected through various scientific and technical research programs. Those include:
- Skyfire, which NASA is developing in partnership with Lockheed Martin at the aerospace company’s Denver facility to perform a lunar fly-by.
- Lunar IceCube, being developed at Moorehead State University in Kentucky to search for water ice and other resources.
- Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, which will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid.
- BioSentinel, designed to use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space.
- Lunar Flashlight, which will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the moon’s surface.
- CuSP, a “space weather station” to measure particles and magnetic fields in space.
- LunaH-Map, to map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s south pole.
Three additional payloads will be determined through NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, a competition sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA has also reserved three slots for payloads from international partners.
“Discussions to fly those three payloads are ongoing,” the space agency said.
In its maiden voyage, SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft into orbit just beyond the moon to put the spacecraft’s various orbital capabilities through the paces. Then the CubeSats will be deployed for deeper-space orbiting.
“Following deployment, the transmitters on the CubeSats will turn on, and ground stations will listen for their beacons to determine the functionality of these small satellites,” NASA said.