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Hitchhiking a Ride to Space

Have you ever packed for a long trip with a friend and ran out of space in your suitcase? Maybe your friend was nice and let your spare items hitchhike a ride in their bag?  The following science experiments are doing something similar on our Space Launch System rocket.


Our Space Launch System (SLS) will be the most powerful rocket we’ve ever built and will enable astronauts in the Orion spacecraft to travel deeper into the solar system. This advanced launch vehicle will launch astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars, while opening new possibilities for other payloads including robotic scientific missions to places like Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

The primary goal of SLS and the Orion spacecraft is to launch future crewed, deep space missions. That said, an added bonus of this powerful rocket is the extra science it can carry. On it’s first mission (known as Exploration Mission-1, EM-1) SLS will carry 13 CubeSats (small satellites, each the size of a large shoebox) on its first flight as secondary payloads. These small satellites will perform various in-space experiments. In a way, these 13 CubeSats are ‘space hitchhikers’, catching a ride to deep space where they can gather data valuable to future exploration missions.


How were these 13 experiments selected? Great question. They were selected through a series of announcements of flight opportunities, a public contest and negations with our international partners.

These secondary payloads have a vast array of functions, from taking pictures of asteroids, to using yeast to detect impacts of deep-space radiation. Each month we will highlight one of these experiments on Tumblr and talk about all the exciting science they will do. Just to give you an idea of what these shoebox-sized satellites will do, we’ll give you a preview:

1. NEA Scout


NEA Scout, stands for: Near-Earth Asteroid Scout. This CubeSat will investigate an asteroid, taking pictures and observe its position in space.

2. BioSentinel


BioSentinel will be the first time living organisms have traveled to deep space in more than 40 years. It will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep-space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space.

3. Lunar Flashlight


This experiment will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface. It will demonstrate the capability to scout for useful materials and resources from lunar orbit.

4. Skyfire


Lockheed Martin’s Skyfire will perform a lunar flyby, collecting data to address both Moon and Mars Strategic Knowledge Gaps, or gaps in information required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness and improve the design of robotic and human space exploration missions, for surface characterization, remote sensing and site selection.

5. Lunar IceCube


Morehead State University’s Lunar IceCube will look for water in ice, liquid and vapor forms from a very low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon. The ability to search for useful resources can potentially help astronauts manufacture fuel and necessities to sustain a crew.

6. CuSP


The CubeSat mission to study Solar Particles, or CuSP, will be the first protype of an interplanetary CubeSat space weather station. It will observe space weather events hours before they reach Earth.

7. Luna-H-Map


Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH) will enter a polar orbit around the moon with a low altitude. From there, it will produce maps of near-surface hydrogen.

8, 9, 10. Three Tournament Payloads


Three of the payloads riding along on this journey will be the winners of the Ground Tournaments portion of our CubeQuest Challenge. This challenge is designed to foster innovation in small spacecraft propulsion and communications techniques. Learn more about this challenge HERE.

11, 12, 13. International Partners

The remaining three payloads are reserved for international partners, and will be announced at a later time.

To stay updated on these experiments, visit:

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Source: NASA

Hitchhiking a Ride to Space

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