Spaceflight Insider

3 CubeSats win rides on 1st flight of NASA’s SLS

Three teams earned a $20,000 prize check and a slot to launch their CubeSat on Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of NASA's Space Launch System. NASA’s Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, Steve Jurczyk, Benjamin Fried of team CU-E3, Kyle Doyle of team Cislunar Explorers, Wesley Faler of Team Miles, and NASA’s Ames Research Center Director, Eugene Tu. Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

From left to right: NASA Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate Steve Jurczyk, Benjamin Fried of team CU-E3, Kyle Doyle of team Cislunar Explorers, Wesley Faler of Team Miles, and NASA Ames Research Center Director Eugene Tu. Photo Credit: Dominic Hart / NASA

On Thursday, June 8, NASA announced the three winning teams of the semi-final round of the space agency’s Cube Quest Challenge. In addition to winning $20,000 each in prize money, the three teams have also secured spots to launch their spacecraft on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) – the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) with the Orion spacecraft.

The CubeSats will be placed in the Orion Stage Adapter, the ring that connects the spacecraft to the SLS rocket, and deployed after Orion separates from SLS and begins its journey into deep space. The adapter is capable of carrying a total of 13 CubeSats. Once deployed, they will compete in deep space for a share of a $5 million prize in the final stage of the Cube Quest Challenge.

The three teams are the following:

  • Cislunar Explorers, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York: The team’s CubeSat uses a water-electrolysis propulsion system. By zapping water with electricity, the bond between hydrogen and oxygen can be broken, decomposing the liquid into a gaseous mixture that readily combusts.
  • CU-E3, the University of Colorado in Boulder: The team is made up of students from the Aerospace Engineering Science Graduate Projects class. Their shoebox-sized CubeSat is designed for communications 2.5 million miles into space.
  • Team Miles, Fluid & Reason, LLC, Tampa, Florida: This team of citizen scientists designed a breadbox-sized CubeSat that will be flown autonomously by an onboard computer and propelled by plasma thrusters.

“We are delighted in the profound achievements of these teams,” said Steve Jurczyk, STMD associate administrator. “Each team has pushed the boundaries of technology and innovation. Now, it’s time to take this competition into space – and may the best CubeSat win.”

According to NASA, the final phase of the Cube Quest Challenge comprises two portions: the Deep Space Derby and the Lunar Derby. In the Deep Space Derby, teams must demonstrate communications from a range of at least 2.5 million miles (four million kilometers), which is more than 10 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. The Lunar Derby requires teams to achieve a lunar orbit and compete for near-Earth communications and longevity achievements. Prizes will be awarded for orbiting the Moon, communicating the fastest and farthest, and surviving the longest.

EM-1 is currently scheduled to launch in late 2019. The Deep Space and Lunar derbies will conclude one year after the CubeSats are deployed.

“Opening our first SLS test flight beyond the Moon to citizen inventors and the scientific community creates a rare opportunity for these small spacecraft to reach deep space,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “These CubeSat-class payloads are expanding our ability to explore by demonstrating affordable and innovative capabilities relevant to future deep space missions.”

The Cube Quest Challenge is part of NASA’s  Centennial Challenges program. The challenge is managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

SLS secondary payloads infographic. Image Credit: NASA

SLS secondary payloads infographic. Image Credit: NASA



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

Reader Comments

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *