13 CubeSats to ride mighty US lifter

NASA names ticket holders for first Space Launch System launch

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NASA has named seven of the 13 CubeSats which will, along with an unmanned Orion capsule, ride atop the Space Launch System (SLS) for the heavy lifter's first launch in 2018.

While the principal objective of the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is to carry Orion "to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of Orion and the SLS rocket prior to the first crewed flight", NASA will take advantage of the chance to dispatch CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit.

Artist's impression of the Lunar IceCube CubeSat

The CubeSats already selected include the "Lunar IceCube" (artist's impression above), designed "to search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the moon", and the "Near-Earth Asteroid Scout", aka NEA Scout - "a robotic reconnaissance mission that will be deployed to fly by and return data from an asteroid representative of NEAs that may one day be human destinations".

Three EM-1 CubeSat tickets will be handed to the winners of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, while "payloads from international partners", to be announced later, will make up the full complement of 13.

Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA's Washington HQ, enthused: "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."

The unprecedented power in question comes from the SLS's four first stage RS-25 engines*, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, plus two solid rocket boosters (SRBs).

The evolution of the SLS shown in graphic form. Pic: NASA

EM-1 will use the SLS's "Block 1" configuration, capable of lifting 70 metric tonnes. Ultimately, NASA hopes the evolved system will provide "an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons". ®


*Last August, NASA rattled Mississippi with a 535-second RS-25 test burn, and kindly provided video of the fire-breathing monster:


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