Washington: The US space agency NASA on Tuesday said its new rocket for deep space mission, the Space Launch System (SLS), will carry 13 small satellites along with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft during its first flight in 2018.
The main objective of the SLS first mission, which will fly just beyond the Moon, is to evaluate the integrated system performance of Orion and the rocket prior to the first crewed flight, Xinhua reported.
“The SLS is providing an incredible opportunity to conduct science missions and test key technologies beyond low-Earth orbit,” Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development, said in a statement.
“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,” Hill said.
For its first flight, the SLS rocket will be configured for a 77-ton lift capacity, but it eventually will provide an “unprecedented” lift capability of 143 tons, which will enable missions even further into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.
The small satellites, known as CubeSats, which will fly to deep space as secondary payloads, will pave the way for future human exploration in deep space, including the journey to Mars, as most launch opportunities for CubeSats are limited to low-Earth orbit, NASA said.
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Four of the 13 small satellites will be used to study the Moon, such as looking for water ice, hydrogen and other resources on our nearest space neighbour, said NASA.
One small satellite called Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, will perform reconnaissance of an asteroid, take pictures and observe its position in space.
One small satellite known as BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space.
Another one, CuSP, will serve as a “space weather station” to measure particles and magnetic fields in space, testing practicality for a network of stations to monitor space weather.