HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – As NASA makes final preparations to launch the Space Launch System for the first time, the secondary payload teams have been ready for over a year. The 10 CubeSats have been inside the Orion Stage Adapter since Summer 2021 including CuSP.

The CubeSat to study Solar Particles, or CuSP, will look at how solar particles affect exploration in deep space and will hopefully begin a network of “Space Weather Stations.”

News 19 sat down with Mihir Desai, the principal investigator for CuSP from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

CuSP will be one of the last CubeSats to deploy from Artemis I, about eight hours after launch. It has two instruments aboard that will measure radiation from the sun and space. CuSP will also study the Sun’s magnetic field which can cause magnetic storms around Earth.

A visualization of the spiral shape of the Sun’s magnetic field lines. (Mihir Desai)

“These are particles that cause radiation hazards to astronauts and technological subsystems in space,” Desai explained. “Space Weather also causes issues with GPS and on occasion, a radiation storm is quite severe that airlines have been known to divert their routes near the polar region.”

In space, CuSP can study those kinds of events hours before they could potentially reach Earth.

The instruments that will study the environment in deep space include:

  • The Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph, or SIS, will detect and characterize low-energy solar energetic particles.
  • The Miniaturized Electron and Proton Telescope, or MERiT, will return counts of high-energy solar energetic particles.
  • The Vector Helium Magnetometer, or VHM, will measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields.

CuSP was originally intended to be a Low-Earth Orbit mission but in 2014 when NASA headquarters told them about a chance to launch on Artemis I, into interplanetary space, the team jumped at the chance.

“That’s where we want to take measurements in the long run,” Desai said. “We really want to measure it unfiltered, directly from the sun.”

The CubeSat’s mission will last about three months but Desai said if everything works this is just the beginning of monitoring space weather.

Mihir Desai with CuSP

“For us, it is important to demonstrate that we could actually study Space Weather at low cost and that this is a really viable path for NASA to follow and launch multiple CubeSats later on,” he said. “Because right now our field… we don’t have many beacons to actually monitor the space weather. We have scattered research satellites across the solar system and we are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Imagine having a buoy or monitor in the Pacific and trying to predict the weather in New York City.”

When asked how it feels to finally have an actual launch date so close he said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It is the most powerful rocket we’ve ever built. So it’s going to be very exciting and nerve-wracking as well as pride in the team that ended up delivering a functioning spacecraft,” he said.

Desai added the only thing he is worried about is that he might have to miss his niece’s wedding.

“I’ll make it up to them, somehow,” he said with a laugh.

You can keep up with CuSP and all the other CubeSats launching with the Artemis I mission on our News 19 Artemis page.