NASA says it’ll send 13 miniaturized satellites – including a pop-up solar sail and a “lunar flashlight” – beyond Earth orbit when it flies its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket for the first time in 2018.
The main payload for the test flight, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, is an uncrewed prototype for NASA’s Orion spaceship. The SLS will send Orion into a highly eccentric orbit that ranges beyond the moon and back.
But there’s also room inside the rocket’s adapter ring for a baker’s dozen of CubeSats, boxy spacecraft of a standard size that are becoming increasingly popular for low-cost space missions.
“They’re really on the cutting edge of technology,” NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said today during a news conference at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.