NASA says the planned 2018 inaugural flight of its new and powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will test the performance of the SLS and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system before it can be used to send humans into space.
This initial flight, called Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, will also carry 13 CubeSats (miniature satellites) on the Orion.
The space agency says that the EM-1 mission will provide the rare opportunity for the CubeSats to reach deep space destinations, since most current launch opportunities for the little satellites are from low-Earth orbit.
The CubeSats will be deployed from dispensers on the Orion spacecraft with spring mechanisms after it separates from the SLS’ upper stage and is a safe distance away.
The mini-satellites will conduct a variety of studies the space agency says will help open the way for future human exploration of deep space destinations including Mars.
Once deployed, transmitters on the CubeSat’s will be switched on and their signals will be monitored by ground stations on Earth.
“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 in a NASA press release.
Some of the experiments that will be carried out by the CubeSat’s include low moon orbits to gather information about its surface and look for water, ice and other lunar resources.
Others will include a photographic and observational trip near to an asteroid as well as one that will use yeast to investigate the effect of deep space radiation on living organisms over the course of a long journey into deep space.
According a NASA spokesperson, after being launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the SLS will travel to the moon, then use lunar gravity to help propel it thousands of kilometers beyond the moon and make a return trip to earth.
For the EM-1 mission, the SLS will be powered by four RS-25 engines and two boosters which NASA says will provide a lift capability of at least minimum 70-metric-tons.Space Launch System Carries CubeSat Explorers During First Mission (NASA/MSFC)