Giant rocket will carry tiny high-tech satellites

Image: Lunar Flashlight
An artist’s conception shows Lunar Flashlight flying above a crater on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

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.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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