NASA announced on Tuesday its Space Launch System rocket for deep space missions will send 13 small science tech satellites into space to further investigate and help prepare for future explorations into the solar system.
In the first mission for SLS, which is dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the rocket will carry the CubeSats (miniature satellites for space research) along with an unmanned Orion spacecraft.
Set to launch in 2018, the mission will allow researchers to test technology ideas to better understand deep space travel, especially when it comes to traveling to Mars.
"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's Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said in a statement.
On the first flight, SLS will be configured for a 77-ton lift capacity and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines to launch the Orion spacecraft to orbit beyond the moon. Once Orion is safely separated, NASA will deploy the CubeSats and will listen for their beacons on the ground to test the functionalities of the satellites.
NASA further detailed the tasks of the small satellites, revealing that the SkyFire CubeSat from Lockheed Martin Space Systems will perform a lunar flyby to take data that will further increase our knowledge about the surface of the moon. Morehead State University will build the Lunar IceCube satellite that will search for water ice and other resources from only 62 miles above the surface of the moon. They were selected through the agency''s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP).
Of three other satellite payloads that were chosen by NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout will take pictures and observe the position of an asteroid, BioSentinel will use yeast to detect and measure the impact of deep radiation on living organisms over long periods of time while in deep space and Lunar Flashlight will look for lunar ice deposits.
Selected by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, the CuSP payload will serve as a "space weather station" to measure magnetic fields in space, testing the practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather, and LunaH-Map will map hydrogen within craters of the moon's south pole.
NASA revealed that three more payloads will be determined through its Cube Quest Challenge, which focuses on spacecraft innovation and communication techniques, whereas the final three payloads will be reserved for international partners. These will be announced in the future.