As its 2018 maiden flight edges closer, NASA has provided further details on what exactly the Space Launch System (SLS) will be carrying deep into space. The agency has today revealed 13 CubeSats in total will be loaded onto the most powerful rocket it has ever built, some of which will be deployed to inspect asteroids, while others will gather data on the Moon.
The SLS' first unmanned flight, named Exploration Mission-1, will fire NASA's Orion capsule into space, and with it a range of scientific instruments aimed at bringing us that little bit closer to Mars.
Last year, NASA revealed three satellites that it would be sending along for the ride. BioSentinel will carry yeast into space to observe the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms, NEA Scout will attempt a rendezvous with a small asteroid, while Lunar Flashlight will look for ice deposits and resources on our own Moon.
Now the agency has settled on a further four to help with its deep space scientific investigations. Developed by Lockheed Martin, Skyfire will carry out a flyby of the Moon, acquiring sensor data to improve our understanding of the lunar surface. Morehead State University's Lunar IceCube will also be getting up close and personal with the Moon, orbiting at 62 mi (100 km) to hunt for water ice and other resources.
The LunaH-Map satellite will attempt to shine a light in the Moon's darker corners, examining craters and other shadowy regions around the south pole to map hydrogen. Meanwhile, CuSP will serve as a weather station, measuring particles and magnetic fields in space, exploring the possibility of using a network of stations to monitor space weather.
So that leaves six empty seats. NASA says three additional payloads will be selected through its Cube Quest Challenge, a four-round CubeSat building competition to be concluded in 2017, while three spots are reserved for international partners.
The satellites will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage, once the spacecraft is a safe distance away.
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