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Deep Space CubeSats: Where Are the Artemis Secondary Payloads Now?

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 13, 2022
NASA’s NEA Scout isn’t going to make its flyby of an asteroid. (Credit: NASA)

While NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday after a 25-day mission to the moon, a number of payloads launched along with it are still operating in space. Let’s look at what has happened to the 10 6U CubeSats launched as secondary payloads on the Artemis I mission.

The table below provides status updates on the CubeSats in McCoys and Robinsons. Smiling Leonard McCoy = it’s alive! Will Robinson = lost in space.

Artemis I Mission
Secondary Payloads

ArgoMoonArgotec/Italian Space AgencyImage Earth, moon and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage
BioSentinelNASAStudy how yeast samples are affected by long-term exposure to space radiation
CuSPSouthwest Research InstituteMeasure solar wind and the magnetic fields to provide data on space weather
EQUULEUSJAXA*/University of TokyoEarth observation, test low-energy trajectory techniques for reaching Earth-moon LaGrange points
LunaH-MapArizona State UniversityMeasure hydrogen distribution at the lunar south pole to search for water
Lunar IceCubeMorehouse State University/NASASearch for ice on the moon using infrared spectrometry
LunIRLockheed MartinInfrared imaging of the moon
Near-Earth Asteroid Scout NASANavigate to asteroid using solar sail
OMOTENASHIJAXA*Land on moon using Nano Semi-Hard Impactor
Team MilesMiles SpaceDemonstrate low-thrust propulsion in deep space using solid iodine plasma thrusters
* Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Six CubeSats are functioning as designed. Four spacecraft were unable to complete their missions.

The McCoys

Builder/Operator/Partner: Argotec – Italian Space Agency
Orbit: Heliocentric
Size: 6U

ArgoMoon was designed to return images of the Space Launch Systems’ Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that placed the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory to the moon. The images were taken after Orion separated from the stage to provide data for NASA, and to demonstrate how CubeSats can perform precise proximity maneuvers in deep space. The spacecraft also returned images of the Earth and moon.

Dan Rowan works on internal components of the BioSentinel CubeSat. (Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart)

Builder/Operator: NASA Ames Research Center
Orbit: Heliocentric
Size: 6U

BioSentinel contains yeast cards that will be rehydrated to study the effects of deep space radiation on DNA repair during long-term space flights. The mission, which is intended to last 18 months, will provide valuable data for crewed deep space flights.

Artist’s impression of EQUULEUS in orbit around the moon. (Credit: JAXA)

EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft)
Builder/Operator: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, University of Tokyo
Orbit: Selenocentric
Size: 6U

EQUULEUS is designed to measure the distribution of plasma surrounding the Earth. The data will assist planners in protecting astronauts and equipment from radiation damage during extended space missions. EQUULEUS is also demonstrating low-thrust trajectory techniques for lunar flybys and reaching Earth-moon Lagrange points.

LunaH-Map (Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper)
Builder/Operator: Arizona State University
Orbit: Selenocentric
Size: 6U

LunaH-Map will use a neutron detector to measure hydrogen down to a meter below the lunar south pole during a planned 96-day mission. Scientists plan to use the data to create a high-resolution map showing the distribution of hydrogen rich compounds such as water. The map will help to assist NASA in its human exploration of the south pole during its Artemis program.

Illustration of NASA’s Lunar IceCube mission investigating lunar ice. (Credit: Morehead State University)

Lunar IceCube
Builder/Operator: Morehead State University/NASA with Busek Company and The Catholic University of America
Orbit: Lunar polar
Size: 6U

Lunar IceCube will use an infrared spectrometer to detect water and organic compounds in the lunar surface and exosphere. The goal is to provide data for future human exploration of the moon.

Team Miles
Builder/Operator: Miles Space
Orbit: Heliocentric
Size: 6U

Team Miles is designed to demonstrate low-thrust plasma propulsion in deep space. The project won first place at NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, which offered $5 million to teams to design, build and deliver small satellites capable of operating near or beyond the moon.

The Robinsons

CuSP (CubeSat for Solar Particles)
Builder/Operator: Southwest Research Institute
Orbit: Heliocentric
Size: 6U

Things initially looked good for CuSP, which was designed to measure incoming solar radiation and magnetic fields. However, the spacecraft was plagued by software reboots and a battery anomaly. NASA continues to hope that communications can be re-established with the CubeSat.

LunIR CubeSat before launch. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Builder/Operator/Partners: Lockheed Martin Space, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems (satellite bus)
Trajectory: Lunar flyby
Size: 6U

LunIR was designed to obtain spectroscopy and thermography data of the lunar surface during a flyby. Lockheed Martin said that a weaker than expected signal was received on the ground, preventing the spacecraft from completing its primary mission of returning data on the moon.

LunIR was also a technology demonstration mission. Lockheed Martin said it was able to build the lightest, long-life space cryocooler to keep the infrared imagers cool. A variant of the cryocooler is being incorporated into two future NASA missions.

Lockheed Martin said they were also able to build a test a CubeSat scaled infrared sensor. The company also explored ways of conducting exploration missions using a very small team.

NASA’s NEA Scout spacecraft in Gravity Off-load Fixture, System Test configuration at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. (Credit: NASA)

Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout)
Builder/Operator: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (with help from other NASA centers)
Type: Solar Sail
Size: 6U

NEA Scout was designed to conduct a flyby of a near-Earth asteroid. It would have been propelled by a solar sail measuring 86 square meters (925 square feet). No signals were received from the spacecraft, nor did observers searching from the ground see any evidence the solar sail had deployed.

OMOTENASHI lander on the lunar surface. (Credit: JAXA)

OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor)
Builder/Operator: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Function: Lunar lander
Size: 6U

OMOTENASHI was designed to land measure the radiation environment around the moon before attempting a semi-hard landing on the surface using solid rocket motors. Controllers reported OMOTENASHI tumbled after deployment, making it difficult for the spacecraft to charge its batteries by pointing its solar panels toward the sun. This resulted in unstable communications with the spacecraft. Attempts to stabilize the OMOTENASHI failed, leading controllers to declare the space lost.

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