MOREHEAD – A Morehead State University constructed satellite will be part of a new NASA launch in 2018 with aims of exploring the moon.
The Morehead State University (MSU) project was one of two payloads already pre-selected as part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnership (NextSTEP) for the 2018 mission.
According to NASA, MSU will construct “Lunar IceCube” – a CubeSat to search for water ice and other resources at a low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon.
The first flight of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will carry at total of thirteen CubeSats to test innovative ideas along with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in 2018.
The small satellite secondary payloads like “Lunar IceCube” will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars. SLS’ first flight, 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.
Among the first small satellites to explore deep space, Lunar IceCube will help lay a foundation for future small-scale planetary missions, mission scientists said.
In addition to providing useful scientific data, NASA says Lunar IceCube will help lay the strategy for sending humans farther into the solar system. The ability to search for useful assets can potentially enable astronauts to manufacture fuel and other provisions needed to sustain a crew for a journey to Mars, reducing the amount of fuel and weight that NASA would need to transport from Earth.
Morehead State University in Kentucky is leading the six-unit (6-U) CubeSat mission, with significant involvement from scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Massachusetts-based Busek Company.
Under the university-led partnership, Morehead State’s Space Science Center will build the 6-U satellite and provide communications and tracking support via its 21-meter ground station antenna. Busek will provide the state-of-the-art electric propulsion system and Goddard will construct IceCube’s only miniaturized instrument, the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Explorer Spectrometer (BIRCHES). The instrument will prospect for water in ice, liquid, and vapor forms from a highly inclined elliptical lunar orbit. Goddard also will model a low-thrust trajectory taking the pint-size satellite to lunar orbit with very little propellant.
“Goddard scientists and engineers have deep experience in areas that are critical to interplanetary exploration,” said mission Morehead State University Principal Investigator Benjamin Malphrus, explaining why the university teamed with Goddard. “The significant expertise at Goddard, combined with Morehead State’s experience in smallsats and Busek’s in innovative electric-propulsion systems, create a strong team.”
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 Headquarters in Washington. “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 other payload selected through NextSTEP was Skyfire – a CubeSat to perform a lunar flyby of the moon, taking sensor data during the flyby to enhance our knowledge of the lunar surface
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 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.
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