NASA to launch its new rocket Space Launch System carrying 13 CubeSats in 2018

Feb 8, 2016 15:00 IST

The US space agency NASA on 2 February 2016 announced that the first flight of its new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), carrying 13 CubeSats and an uncrewed Orion Spacecraft will be launched in 2018.

These small satellites secondary payloads will carry science and technology investigations, which will help in paving the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars. These payloads were selected through a NASA challenge and negotiations with NASA’s international partners.

SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will provide the rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to 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.

List of CubeSats to be carried by SLS


Process of Selection



Through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency

  • To be developed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Denver, Colorado.
  • This CubeSat will perform a lunar flyby of the moon, taking sensor data during the flyby to enhance knowledge of the lunar surface.


Lunar IceCube

Through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency

  • To be developed by Morehead State University, Kentucky.
  • This CubeSat will search for water ice and other resources at a low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon.


Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout)

NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate

  • It will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space.



NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate

  • It will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space.


Lunar Flashlight

NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate

  • It will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface.



NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

  • It is a space weather station to measure particles and magnetic fields in space, testing practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather.



NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

  • It will map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s South Pole.


Besides, the three additional payloads will be determined through NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge – sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. It is designed to foster innovations in small spacecraft propulsion and communications techniques. CubeSat builders will vie for a launch opportunity on SLS’ first flight through a competition that has four rounds, referred to as ground tournaments, leading to the selection in 2017 of the payloads to fly on the mission.

NASA has also reserved three slots for payloads from international partners. Discussions to fly those three payloads are ongoing, and they will be announced at a later time.

Other the other hand, during this first flight, SLS will also 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-ton (77-ton) lift 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.

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