The successful launch of the Artemis I mission reflects our continuous yearning for life in space. Already beating the furthest distance traveled for any human-rated spacecraft, the heavy lift launcher carried a payload full of dreams and ambitions in the search for the unknown. I know firsthand because I was there. I cheered from far away, joined by hundreds of people, when the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lit up at 1:47 am. Then, darkness became light, and everything brightened quickly with a golden shimmer. The thunderous roar of the sonic boom overpowered all other sounds. The SLS's steady ascent lasted only a couple of minutes, defying gravity and any perceived limitations about our Earth-bound existence.
We live in a golden era of space research and development, where anything is possible. And the answers to our questions are further out in space. CubeSats have been a paradigm shift for the space industry, making scientific inquiries and technology demonstrations easier and less expensive. Ten CubeSats were onboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket as a secondary payload. The first payload — the Orion capsule — carried three mannequins. The SLS rocket can potentially accommodate 17 CubeSats between 6U and 12U sizes with a secondary deployment system in the Orion Stage Adapter, which connects the SLS’s upper stage to the Orion capsule.
Each satellite mission has an ambitious set of objectives that target open questions and problems identified as Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) by NASA on the Moon, Sun, and interplanetary space. These knowledge gaps relate to risks, surface characterization, site selections, and new opportunities for robotic and crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. Therefore, the secondary payload selection process sought to fill in these SKGs. However, after some communications failures and delays post-launch, many satellites reported experiencing difficulties in orbit, proving how much more there is still to learn, test, and discover.
I want to itemize the four Lunar missions in a more reader-friendly format as it’s often difficult to follow the specifics in other news articles. Given my previous communications role in an advanced electric in-space propulsion company, I’m particularly interested in the imaging and characterization mission of the SLS’s in-space propulsion system, and I would like to zoom into greater focus.
Artemis I Payload Manifest
- Name: Lunar IceCube
Institution(s): Morehead State University (Kentucky), NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and JPL (Maryland), Busek Company (Massachusetts)
Objective: Search for water in ice, liquid, and vapor from the Lunar surface. Uses an innovative low-thrust radio-frequency (RF) ion electric engine to capture data from various latitudes. This low-energy trajectory will include flybys around the Moon and Earth. A key infrared spectroscopic instrument onboard is the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES). BIRCHES can distinguish and characterize the elements in the infrared wavelength bands with a high spectral resolution (five nanometers) and wavelength range (between one and four micrometers)
Intended duration: 18 months