Lockheed Martin’s SkyFire CubeSat To Fly On Exploration Mission-1

This concept image shows Lockheed Martin's SkyFire CubeSat, which will characterize and collect lunar surface data. Image Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

This concept image shows Lockheed Martin’s SkyFire CubeSat, which will characterize and collect lunar surface data. Image Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

February 4, 2016 – NASA has selected Lockheed Martin’s SkyFire 6U CubeSat to fly on the agency’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and an uncrewed Orion spacecraft.

One of 13 CubeSats selected for EM-1, SkyFire will be deployed from the EM-1 upper stage after which it will perform a lunar flyby before fulfilling additional flight objectives. Technologies aboard SkyFire’s small CubeSat platform will be demonstrated that address NASA’s Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) and provide commercial benefit for future Lockheed Martin missions.

“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.

The secondary payloads were selected through a series of announcements of flight opportunities, a NASA challenge and negotiations with NASA’s international partners. In March 2015, SkyFire, as well as Morehead State University’s Lunar IceCube, were chosen through the NextSTEP BAA for further development as potential secondary payloads on EM-1.

“The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “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.”

On its first mission—Exploration Mission 1--the Space Launch System (SLS) will transport secondary payloads mounted inside the Orion Stage Adaptor located between the top of the SLS upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS), and the Orion crew spacecraft.  The shoebox-size CubeSat payloads will deploy from the adaptor after the Orion spacecraft moves away on its journey to deep space. The payloads will go to many different places to gather data including asteroids and Earth’s moon. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

On its first mission—Exploration Mission 1–the Space Launch System (SLS) will transport secondary payloads mounted inside the Orion Stage Adaptor located between the top of the SLS upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS), and the Orion crew spacecraft. The shoebox-size CubeSat payloads will deploy from the adaptor after the Orion spacecraft moves away on its journey to deep space. The payloads will go to many different places to gather data including asteroids and Earth’s moon. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

SkyFire Mission Overview

Once deployed, Lockheed Martin’s 6U-sized small satellite, SkyFire, will perform a lunar flyby taking images of the lunar surface and its environment, performing observations to help address SKGs related to surface characterization, remote sensing, and site selection observations. The data collected on thermal environments will add to the body of knowledge on the composition, structure, interaction with the space environment, and interaction with solar particles and the lunar regolith – all contributing to risk reduction for potential future human missions.

After the lunar flyby and data collection is complete at the moon, SkyFire will address Mars SKGs related to transit and long-duration exploration missions. SkyFire will also conduct additional CubeSat based technology demonstrations including maneuvers and operations to address multiple moon and Mars SKGs related to in-space operations that will reduce risk to future deep-space crewed and robotic missions.

Selected Payloads

NASA selected two payloads through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement:

  • SkyFire – Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Denver, Colorado, will develop a CubeSat to perform a lunar flyby of the moon, taking sensor data during the flyby to enhance our knowledge of the lunar surface

  • Lunar IceCube – Morehead State University, Kentucky, will build a CubeSat to search for water ice and other resources at a low orbit of only 62 miles above the surface of the moon

  • Three payloads were selected by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate:

  • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space

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

  • Two payloads were selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate:

  • CuSP – a “space weather station” to measure particles and magnetic fields in space, testing practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather

  • LunaH-Map will map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s south pole

  • Three additional payloads will be determined through NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge – sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and 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.

    Solar System and Beyond

    As NASA prepares for future human exploration missions, it is critical that CubeSats and other in-space technology demonstrations advance capabilities to increase the knowledge of exploration environments and reduce the risk to crews and systems. Through its investigation of the lunar environment and advanced operational techniques, SkyFire will provide key pieces of data advancing the state-of-the-art technologies and increasing operational confidence at deep-space destinations.

    On this first flight, SLS will 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.

    An artist rendering shows NASA’s Space Launch Systems (SLS) evolution from a Block 1 configuration to various configurations capability of supporting different types of crew and cargo missions. On it’s first flight—Exploration Mission 1-- the SLS Block 1 vehicle will transport an uncrewed Orion spacecraft and a fleet of CubeSats. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

    An artist rendering shows NASA’s Space Launch Systems (SLS) evolution from a Block 1 configuration to various configurations capability of supporting different types of crew and cargo missions. On it’s first flight—Exploration Mission 1– the SLS Block 1 vehicle will transport an uncrewed Orion spacecraft and a fleet of CubeSats. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

    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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    Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado, is also the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.