The results of these experiments are critical to helping humans safely return to the moon and pave the way for the eventual human landing on Mars through future Artemis missions.
Experiments inside and outside the spacecraft with Orion will be exposed to radiation from the deep space environment beyond low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station is located.
These are just a few of the upcoming experiments on a trip to the moon — and their discoveries could change the future of space exploration.
Shoebox-sized space missions
Some of the most interesting payloads in the Artemis I mission are 10 CubeSats. These small satellites, each the size of a shoebox, conduct science and technology demonstrations and tests. Each weighs approximately 25 lbs (11 kg).
Despite their small size, some CubeSats will make a big difference by providing new perspectives on the lunar environment, which will help, says Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. To enhance the design of the exploration system. .
Once Orion is in space, the rocket’s upper stage will separate from the spacecraft. When this milestone occurs, the CubeSats will set off on their own, each deployed at a unique destination for individual missions that may last from a few days to several years.
Four of the space satellites will focus on the moon, three will analyze radiation, and two will serve as technology demonstrations.
Then there’s the 10th minimoon, called the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout. Developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the cubesat will cruise for about two years to capture images and study a small asteroid. When the NEA Scout finally reaches its target, it will be 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth—the first CubeSat to reach an asteroid.
A 925-square-foot (86-square-meter) solar sail will propel the CubeSat. A thin reflective sail similar to aluminum foil will test the sail as the primary propulsion system in deep space.
The four Lunar CubeSats are named Lunar IceCube, LunaH-Map, LunIR and OMOTENASHI.
Moon IceCube will search for water and other elements in lunar orbit. LunaH-Map will create high-fidelity maps of the permanently shadowed regions of the moon’s south pole where future Artemis missions intend to land and detect near-surface hydrogen. LunIR will capture images of the lunar surface using infrared light invisible to the human eye.
JAXA developed OMOTENASHI, or the outstanding lunar exploration technology experimentally demonstrated by the NAno semi-rigid impactor. It is considered to be the smallest lunar lander in the world.
The tiny spacecraft will test the technology and maneuvers needed to make a semi-hard landing on the moon. As OMOTENASHI descends toward the moon, it will free fall. Its airbags and shock-absorbing mechanism act as bumpers to help the satellite survive a fall.
“I often like to say that science is our toolbox for survival during exploration,” Bleacher said, noting that these experiments will help ensure the safety of future crews and optimize the durability of hardware.
How life responds to space
A series of sensors inside the Orion spacecraft will detect the amount of radiation exposure that human crews may face in the future. Capturing this data will allow NASA and its partners to study the best ways to protect Artemis astronauts.
Inside Orion will be NASA’s Biology Experiment 1, which will study the effects of radiation on fungal DNA repair, yeast adaptation, seed nutritional value and algal gene expression.
“Each of these four experiments will help us understand a unique aspect of how biological systems adapt and develop in deep space,” NASA space biology program scientist Sharmila Bhattacharya said in a statement. “Gathering such information and analyzing it after flight will ultimately help us paint a complete picture of how we can help humans thrive in deep space.”
Traveling beyond Orion will be the CubeSat BioSentinel, developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, where Bhattacharya is located. The satellite will carry single-celled yeast to measure what happens when the organism is exposed to radiation for extended periods of time.
BioSentinel will be the first long-term biological experiment in deep space, according to NASA scientists. Once it wobbles around the moon, the satellite will orbit the sun for six to nine months.
Yeast cells have biological mechanisms similar to human cells and are likely to be damaged by radiation. The CubeSat’s biosensor technology will monitor yeast cell growth and metabolic activity throughout the journey.
The effects experienced by yeast microbes could help scientists better understand what humans might experience as they leave low-Earth orbit.
“BioSentinel is the first of its kind,” Matthew Napoli, BioSentinel program manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement. “It will take living organisms farther into space than ever before.”