NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will take off for deep space in 2018 in an inaugural flight to be known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, because this mission will open up the inhabitants of Earth to accessing opportunities in the far reaches of deep space, NASA reports.
Thirteen satellites will be shown the way up there, but three among these will be launched from aboard Orion and the SLS to collect scientific data from Earth’s moon and asteroids to help humans chart the possibilities of future explorations to destinations farther off in space.
The three satellites will only be able to hitchhike after they have come out tops at NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge.
"This is an exciting time for teams to launch to the Moon (and beyond), and the Cube Quest Challenge offers an extraordinary opportunity to test their spacecraft, encouraging the next generation of deep space explorers," said Jim Cockrell, Cube Quest Challenge administrator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
With this challenge, private and commercial organizations that are not government-owned can participate in spacecraft propulsion and communications through three main stages and finally win the prize money of $5.5 million.
The three stages in the competition are the Ground Tournaments, the Deep Space Derby, and the Lunar Derby.
Non-governmental flight teams that wish to participate in the Cube Quest Challenge take part in four Ground Tournaments held every 4-6 months with incremental prizes offered to the teams that pass each progress checkpoint in the ground tournaments.
Interested teams are allowed to come into the competition at any stage of the four tournaments, but they must rate within the first or second position in the top five to win a chance of launching on EM-1.
After deployment from SLS, the CubeSats then progress to compete in the Deep Space Derby and the Lunar Derby, with more prizes given for meeting given milestones. Any team that does not make it to the SLS launch may continue to compete in the derbies but only on the condition of finding another launch vehicle.
According to NASA officials, “The Deep Space Derby will focus on finding innovative solutions to deep space survival and long distance communications using small spacecraft, and the Lunar Derby will focus primarily on propulsion and navigation for small spacecraft while in lunar orbit.”
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Meanwhile, with the competition, non-government spacecrafts would for the first time be allowed to participate in making it possible for mankind to explore deep space destinations. The Cube Quest Challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Centennial Challenges program.