NASA will launch the world's most powerful rocket in 2018 to transport an unmanned spacecraft as well as 13 mini-satellites that will help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars.
The first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, will carry 13 CubeSats to test innovative ideas along with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft.
The first flight of SLS referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) provides the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit.
"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," said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.
Of the 13 CubeSats, Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space. Bio Sentinel CubeSat will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space, NASA said.
Lunar Flashlight will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface, the US space agency said.
The secondary payloads were selected through a series of announcements of flight opportunities, a NASA challenge and negotiations with NASA's international partners.
"The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit," said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA.
"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," said Hill.
On this first flight, SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft 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.
The first configuration of SLS that will fly on EM-1 is referred to as Block I and will have a minimum 70-metric-tonnelift capability and be powered by twin boosters and four RS-25 engines.
The CubeSats will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage and once Orion is a safe distance away. Each payload will be ejected with a spring mechanism from dispensers on the Orion stage adapter.
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.
(Feature image source: Facebook/ NASA )