10 CubeSats are Hitching a Ride on Artemis I – What, Why and How?

NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. In addition to demonstrating NASA’s new heavy-lift capability and sending the Orion spacecraft into deep space, SLS also has the capability to carry CubeSats to deep space. CubeSats are small, low-cost experiments not much larger than a shoebox.

CubeSat being prepared for loading into the Orion stage adapter

The Artemis I flight has 10 CubeSats manifested that are 6U in size (one U, or unit, is 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm). The Orion stage adapter on the Block 1 SLS vehicle connects Orion to the upper stage and can potentially accommodate up to 17 CubeSats in a combination of 6U or 12U sizes, although only 10 CubeSats are riding along on the Artemis I flight. An additional slot is reserved for the avionics unit that controls the CubeSats’ deployment in deep space.

Orion stage adapter

Several of the CubeSats chosen to fly on Artemis I are lunar-focused and were proposed by programs across the agency. Other missions will be testing innovative propulsion technologies, studying space weather, analyzing the effects of radiation on organisms, and providing high-resolution imagery of the Earth and Moon. Three of these CubeSats are competing in the Cube Quest Challenge, vying for prizes for accomplishing such goals as farthest communication to Earth from space.

Loading a CubeSat into the Orion stage adapter
Orion stage adapter loaded and ready for launch

Secondary payloads on SLS not only provide CubeSat developers with an exceptional opportunity to deploy CubeSats in deep space, they also enable NASA to engage with international partners, industry, and students. International space agency partners are providing three payloads, and universities are involved with five payloads.

The CubeSats will be deployed following Orion separation from the upper stage once Orion is a safe distance away. Each payload will be ejected with a spring mechanism from dispensers installed on the Orion stage adapter. The SLS program provides a secondary payload deployment system for the CubeSats which includes the deployment system, an avionics unit, mounting brackets for the dispensers, cable harnesses, and a vibration mitigation system.

Additional information for the curious

10 CubeSats are Hitching a Ride on Artemis I – What, Why and How?

Artemis Launch Day Essential Information

What Kind of Weather Conditions Will Delay the Artemis Launch?

If the Artemis Launch is Delayed What Are the Potential New Launch Dates?

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The Artemis I Mission Bible August 2022

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