LunIR orbiting the Moon

Artemis 1: Beginning of the Interplanetary Cubesat Revolution

As part of the Artemis I mission, NASA allowed companies and universities to loft their cubesats to space aboard the maiden flight of SLS.

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Ashe S.

Ashe S.

Fri Dec 02 2022Written by Ashe S.

At 1:47am EST, on the 16th of November, 2022, Artemis 1 took to the skies in glorious fashion, with the mission to pave the way for humans to return to the moon, and this time to stay. However, 10 smaller missions stowed away inside the upper stage of the SLS rocket, and are paving the way for the future of interplanetary science. These missions all focus on using cheap, readily available parts and push them to their limits to expand the horizons of science around the Moon and beyond. However, this leads to a high risk factor for many of these missions, which has been seen in the high loss of mission counts.


Lunar InfraRed imaging (LunIR) is a 6U cubesat developed by Terran Orbital, a major contractor for the CAPSTONE mission, another lunar smallsat mission. LunIR’s mission is to demonstrate lunar infrared scanning technologies with its Mid-Wave InfraRed (MWIR) sensor, along with safing future crewed missions to Mars and beyond. During the close approach to the moon, LunIR activated its MWIR sensor and recorded infrared data from across the surface of the moon, along with spectroscopy and thermal imaging of the surface. After the flyby was performed, the LunIR mission began to focus on its second mission, addressing knowledge gaps in deep space exploration for crewed travel. Researchers are able to use the LunIR craft as an analog for a crewed mission to Mars. As of writing, LunIR is still operating 

Luna H-Map

Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (Luna H-Map) is a 6U cubesat developed by Arizona State University. H-Map was developed with a goal to investigate the presence of water ice on the moon, and works with the LunIR and Lunar IceCube satellites to achieve a better understanding of the presence of water ice. The primary science instrument is a scintillation neutron detector, which reacts to the presence of certain neutrons. This instrument will be able to detect the abundance of water-ice on the south pole of the moon, around the Shackleton Crater. During a critical maneuver to enter into a lunar orbit on November 17th, the craft was unable to achieve any thrust. The propulsion team identified a frozen valve as the cause of failure. While no exact plan has been outlined, a press release from NASA on the state of the spacecraft identified that while the craft missed the initial window, there are many more windows in the coming months for the craft to take a prolonged journey to enter a polar lunar orbit. A tweet by the Luna H-Map twitter account reinforces this by mentioning that the next planned maneuver will occur “around the new year”, and the scientific mission could then be performed.

Lunar IceCube

Lunar IceCube is a 6U cubesat developed by Morehead State University, and is the part of the water-ice cubesat group, alongside LunIR and Luna H-Map. Lunar IceCube’s mission focuses on the location and distribution of water-ice around Shackleton Crater for the use of further exploration by robotic spacecraft and rovers, and eventually crewed explorations missions. Lunar IceCube’s primary scientific instrument is the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Exploration Spectrometer (BIRCHES), which was developed by NASA Goddard. The BIRCHES instrument has a storied history, with the model being based on the spectrometer on the New Horizons spacecraft. As of writing, the IceCube spacecraft has remained operational and is still performing its primary mission.


The near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA-Scout) was one of the most ambitious and could have been the most rewarding of the 10 missions onboard the recent SLS launch, yet its mission is in peril. NEA-Scout’s mission was to explore a plethora of near-Earth asteroids ranging from 1-100m (3-328 feet) in diameter. Asteroids in this range are theorized to have been objects that broke off from larger bodies, and could provide much more valuable scientific research. NEA-Scout’s defining feature is its deployable solar sail, an 85 square meter foil that uses solar pressure as its source of propulsion. NEA-Scout is the only of the 10 cubesats launched on Artemis 1 that includes a solar sail. Scout carries a high-grade scientific camera, and is all customly adapted for this mission. As of time of writing, NEA-Scout has not been able to transmit data through the Deep Space Network, which leaves the state of the spacecraft a mystery. The last update we have from the teams behind NEA-Scout is that they will be progressing with attempting to expand the solar sail, in hopes to be able to see a drastic change in reflected light from the craft. No update has been made since November 18th on the state of the vehicle.

Team Miles

Team Miles is a 6U cubesat launched on Artemis 1 as a technology demonstration focusing on innovative plasma thrusters and S-band radio communications. Team Miles was developed by Miles Space, a company based out of Tampa, Florida. Team Miles' main mission revolves around their novel ion thruster, a form of electric propulsion, to use as a primary propulsion source, and for orientation and attitude control. The craft also holds a new radio design that is rated to work 4 million kilometers from Earth, but will be attempting to use the radio at a distance of 96 million kilometers during the mission. 


The CubeSat for Solar Particles (CuSP) is a cubesat focused on solar research. CuSP is the first of many cubesats to build a constellation network of satellites in solar orbits, focusing on improving solar research by use of cubseat platforms. This objective is based on the idea of having many small space weather instruments each being hosted on a different cubesat. CuSP was built by the Southwest Research Institute. The CuSP spacecraft hosts 3 specific instruments focused on solar weather, the Suprathermal Ion Spectographer, the Miniaturized Electron and Proton Telescope, and the Vector Helium Magnetometer. The Suprathermal Ion Spectographer, designed by the Southwest Research Institute to detect and characterize solar particles, the Miniaturized Electron and Proton Telescope tracks high energy solar energy and particles, and the Vector Helium Magnetometer, build by NASA JPL, will measure the strength of solar magnetic fields.


BioSentinel is a 6U cubesat developed by NASA Ames Research Center is the only astrobiology mission of the 10 cubesats to launch on Artemis 1. The BioSentinel mission uses budding yeast to detect changes in growth rates in deep space radiation conditions. This experiment will lay the groundwork into exploring the biological effects cosmics rays and the deeps space environment affects living organisms and outlines the risks that accompany human exploration past the moon. After performing a lunar flyby, skimming close over the surface of the moon, BioSentinel performed corrective maneuvers and prepares for its 18 month journey into interplanetary space.


Developed by The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, EQUULEUS is one of two cubesats launched on Artemis 1. EQUELLUS, standing for EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft, will investigate the plasmasphere of earth, a encompassing region of plasma, to better understand the radiation environment. The mission will map the plasmasphere from Earth-Moon Lagrange points, gravitational exceptions between the earth and moon where the pull of each on the spacecraft cancel out. EQUULEUS hosts a UV imager, named PHOENIX, which will investigate the UV radiation of helium ions present in the plasmasphere. The EQUULEUS mission is still on track, with JAXA releasing photographs taken by an onboard camera, showing the lunar shift from daylight into darkness.


Standing for Outstanding MOn exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor, OMOTENASHI is the second of two smallsats launched on Artemis 1 developed by The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). OMOTENASHI was a technology demonstrator with the goal of landing a novel nanosatellite on the surface of the moon. The mission was focused around lunar radiation, taking radiation readings from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon. The landing method is one that had never been tested before, using a ‘Semi-Hard Impactor’. The lander design consisted of the nanosatellite and a small onboard airbag, which would absorb the impact force of landing. The expected landing velocity for the impactor was expected to be 20-30 m/s, however the impactor was never deployed by the parent satellite. Soon after deployment, the satellite experienced a critical error as it was not able to establish a connection to ground stations on earth, which resulted in the impactor missing its deploy window and flying past the moon. There have been no updates on the current state of the satellite and impactor as teams reevaluate the mission.


ArgoMoon is the only European CubeSat to be featured on Artemis 1, created by Argotec, an Italian aerospace and defense company, and sponsored by The Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA). ArgoMoon’s mission is to perform a variety of demonstrations including imaging, proximity navigation, and long distance optical communication. ArgoMoon was proposed by Argotec to fix an inability for the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), the upper stage of SLS, to connect to communication arrays during the deployment of the 10 small sats, and developed the ArgoMoon mission to fix this inability. After separation from the smallsat, the craft began to fly in close proximity to the ICPS and take detailed imagery of the stage during further satellite deployments and provide downlink abilities during deployments. ArgoMoon’s second mission begins in a few months, when the orbit of the ArgoMoon craft begins to decay around the sun and its radiation testing and telemetry demonstrators will be tested, opening the door for smallsat exploration beyond the earth system.