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NASA announces fleet of small satellites to join first flight of Space Launch System in 2018

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (WHNT) –  NASA’s first integrated launch of the Orion Spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) are not the only things moving out of this world in 2018. On Tuesday, NASA announced a fleet of small satellites will join the mission too. The SLS will carry an additional 13 satellites, known as CubeSats, further than space exploration’s been for a while.

“Beyond the moon, 275,000 miles away from earth, now we don’t normally get to carry CubeSats payloads that far,” said Chris Crumbly, Manager of the SLS Spacecraft and Payload Integration/Evolution Office at Marshall Space Flight Center.

The five-foot ring connecting the Orion Spacecraft to NASA’s SLS will hold these CubeSats.  One of them is the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout.

“You can have a large mission in a small volume,” said Tiffany Russell Lockett, Lead System Engineer of NEA Scout.

Lockett said this satellite payload is heading for an asteroid.

“Once it’s out in interplanetary space, it will go to an asteroid, take pictures, learn about its rotation, just get more information about it for future human missions to asteroids,” Lockett said.

During Tuesday’s announcement, Lockett spoke about the importance of the Solar Sail. While this mission isn’t the first to a comet or an asteroid, it’s the first time a Solar Sail of this size will be used. The material allows this satellite to move using energy from the sun.

“What this technology proves is that you can do a small satellite and go far distances using a Solar Sail,” Lockett said.

The novelty of this additional fleet is deeper space exploration. Scientist can use the knowledge gained by these 13 CubeSats to develop the technology needed to take humans even further in space than ever before.

“Anything that we learn about deep space is adding to the body of knowledge,” Crumbly said.

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