Artemis I launches 10 cubesats, including lunar landings, for technology and research

Artemis I launches 10 cubesats, including lunar landings, for technology and research

Artemis I launches 10 cubesats, including lunar landings, for technology and research

The Artemis I mission, the first flight of the Orion spacecraft and SLS, is now underway after successful launch from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center at 1:47:44 AM EST (06:47:44 UTC) on November 16.

Artemis I not only launched the Orion spacecraft to the Moon, but also 10 6U CubeSats, the largest weighing about 14 kilograms, which were ejected from the ICPS upper stage after trans-lunar injection after launch.

These CubeSats will fly to various destinations including the Moon, asteroids and interplanetary space. They will study various aspects of the Moon and interplanetary travel, ranging from navigational techniques to radiation and biology. One of them is even planned to make a soft landing on the surface of the moon.

Thirteen CubeSat missions were originally selected during the 2015-2017 timeframe to fly on Artemis I (then known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1), but three of them were not ready by the final payload processing deadline for launch.

The Lunar Lantern, the two Cislunar Explorer nanosatellites, and CU-E3 could not be delivered due to various technical and pandemic-related issues. They can be processed for later launch opportunities.

Installation of the NEA Scout and Lunar IceCube satellites on the SLS ICPS upper stage on July 14, 2022 (Credit: NASA)

Ten CubeSat missions were delivered to Kennedy Space Center and processed for flight in the summer of 2021. They were placed on the payload ring on the second stage of the ICPS along with the avionics unit that controlled the deployment sequence.

Two of these missions are NASA and directly developed and managed by NASA centers. Other missions are being developed by universities, small and large airline companies and research institutes in cooperation with NASA.

European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian space agency (breastfeeding), i Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are also involved in CubeSat missions on this flight.

CubeSats on Artemis I

The Lunar IceCube mission is a joint effort between Morehead State University, Busek and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Lunar IceCube will go into a high-inclination elliptical orbit with a perilune of 100 kilometers (the lowest point of the orbit around the Moon) and map volatiles on the Moon’s surface.

Lunar IceCube is equipped with one instrument, the High Resolution Broadband Infrared Compact Research Spectrometer (BIRCHES). BIRCHES will use its spectrometer capability to determine the major minerals on the Moon’s surface.

Artemis I launches 10 cubesats, including lunar landings, for technology and research

The Solid Rocket Boosters tumble through the air after separation as the RS-25 core continues to propel the SLS into orbit. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

The NEA (Near Earth Asteroid) Scout was developed by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. It will conduct a tour of the small asteroid and collect data about its environment, using an 86 square meter solar sail and several lunar orbits to get the spacecraft on track to the asteroid.

Asteroid 2020 GE is the planned target for NEA Scout, although depending on the exact time and date of the launch, this could change. 2020 GE is 18 meters in diameter and would be the smallest Solar System object ever explored by a spacecraft to date.

NEA Scout’s goal is to fly by and characterize an asteroid between one and 100 meters in diameter. The spacecraft carries a science camera with context camera-based electronics for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) platform installed on the ISS.

Asteroids like 2020 GE are part of a family of objects that are not well understood, but objects of this size could cause major damage to cities if they hit Earth on the right trajectory. The population of near-Earth asteroids can be mined for resources in the future, for use on Earth or in bases on the Moon or in Earth orbit.

An artist’s impression of the BioSentinel CubeSat in deep space. Credit: NASA

The BioSentinel mission was developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and is the first NASA mission to send living beings into cislunar space since December 1972, with three identical biological payloads available as comparisons. This includes one in low Earth orbit on the ISS. Budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is transmitted to the CubeSat.

The yeast will be activated after checking out of the flight and flying over to the moon. It was chosen because of its similarity to human cells and the way they repair double-strand breaks in DNA caused by ionizing radiation. The metabolic activity and growth of the yeast cell culture will be evaluated as an indicator of the successful repair of the DNA damage of the cells.

The BioSentinel CubeSat also carries sensors to measure radiation in the cislunar environment. The CubeSat will be outside the Earth’s protective magnetosphere. It will therefore be exposed to the solar wind and cosmic rays that could damage the astronauts’ DNA when they venture that far away on future Artemis missions.

The NASA-funded and Lockheed Martin-built LunIR CubeSat is a technology demonstrator that will conduct spectroscopy and thermography on the lunar surface.

Reflections on achievements. SLS takes off on its maiden flight. (Credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF)

While one image of the Moon from less than 20,000 kilometers will be categorized as a successful mission, LunIR is planned to take several dozen images of the Moon and map them using an infrared instrument that uses a closed-cycle mini-cryocooler to keep the detector at its optimum level. temperature.

The cryocooler will be used on Psyche and Europa Clipper missions and LunIR is set to be its first space test. The cryocooler and the infrared sensor will be stress tested when the primary mission is completed, imaging the Moon, Earth, then the Sun.

After that, it will be back to filming The moon and Earth, and the detector will be checked for any damage caused the sun.

LunIR will perform a flyby of the Moon, but will not enter orbit. It will use reaction wheels to steer itself in the right direction at any time during flight, but has no other propulsion system. It will end up in a heliocentric orbit.

The CuSP CubeSat is shown assembled. (Credit: NASA)

The CubeSat for Solar Particles (CuSP) will also orbit the Sun, and will use three instruments to measure the radiation and magnetic fields of our local star. The satellite, developed by the Southwest Research Institute, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and NASA JPL, will use a cold gas propulsion system for propulsion.

The map launch satellite is sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). This CubeSat was developed by Arizona State University in Tempe, and its mission is to image the south polar region of the Moon’s surface. The satellite will map hydrogen-rich compounds like the water around Shackleton Crater.

ArgoMoon CubeSat, manufactured in Italy, was built to image the ICPS upper stage during CubeSat deployment, as ICPS was unable to send telemetry after trans-lunar injection. The Italian company Argotec designed this satellite and built it for the Italian Space Agency.

ArgoMoon is equipped with two cameras and an optical communication system, along with autonomous navigation and nanotechnology demonstrations. The CubeSat will fly past the Moon and enter a heliocentric orbit.

The Miles CubeSat team will demonstrate the hybrid plasma and laser thrusters invented by Wesley Faler, head of the non-profit group Fluid and Reason, LLC. The team won the CubeQuest Challenge and their concept was selected for flight.

The Miles CubeSat team prepares for launch. (Credit: NASA)

The Miles team will also test S-band software-defined radio as well as deep space navigation. The developed technology and intellectual property will be used by the commercial company Miles Space.

The EQUULEUS spacecraft was developed by the University of Tokyo and JAXA. It is intended to measure the plasmasphere around the Earth, as well as to demonstrate water vapor propulsion.

As part of this demonstration, EQUULEUS will make several flybys of the Moon and travel to the L2 point in the Earth-Moon system. This is the same Lagrange point used by spacecraft such as JWST.

Another Japanese spacecraft rounds out the Artemis I CubeSat complement. OMOTENASHI, Japanese for “welcome,” is a lunar landing demonstration commissioned by JAXA. If successful, Japan would be the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union and China.

After the CubeSat enters lunar orbit with cold gas thrusters, it will deploy a surface probe to land somewhere on the surface of the Moon. This probe will be derbited by a solid rocket motor and is designed to use an airbag and metal shock absorber to achieve a semi-hard, survivable landing at speeds of less than 50 meters per second.

The OMOTENASHI orbital module is equipped with a dosimeter developed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, while both the lander and orbiter are equipped with a 430 MHz UHF radio that enthusiasts can detect.

Image from Orion after deployment from ICPS. (Credit: NASA)

Loading, Launching and Deploying

Artemis I was finally launched on November 16, 2022, after months of delays and two refined attempts in the August-September time frame. After the installation of the CubeSats in the ICPS upper stage, concerns arose about the effects of the delay on the satellite missions.

The satellite’s onboard batteries were charged before the payload was placed on the upper stage, but some of them could not be charged due to lack of access. After SLS was returned to VAB in September, some satellites—those that could be accessed—were recharged.

The yeast payload of the BioSentinel satellite was refrigerated prior to installation to preserve the viability of the experiment. The effect of the cumulative mission delays on the BioSentinel experiments remains to be seen, as does the effect on other CubeSats.

After the successful launch of Artemis I and the trans-lunar injection burn, 10 CubeSats were deployed starting four hours after launch and completed the process after eight hours.

Since release, six CubeSats have been heard from: EQUULEUS, LunIR, CuSP, LunaH-Map, ArgoMoon and BioSentinel. The hope is that if the CubeSat lost its electrical charge during a mission delay, the spacecraft’s solar arrays would eventually capture sunlight and recharge the spacecraft’s batteries themselves.

Regardless of the success or failure of individual CubeSats, the emergence of this class of spacecraft has enabled the testing of new technologies at lower costs and at a faster pace than in the past, but with a greater risk of failure. As Lockheed Martin LunIR program manager John Ricks stated “we are taking a big risk in the hopes of winning this high prize.”

(Lead image: Artemis I launch at 1:47 a.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Nathan Barker for NSF)

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