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Lockheed Martin and NASA have signed a deal to put a science cubesat on the first SLS rocket, planned for an unmanned launch of Orion in 2018.
The adapter ring that connects Orion to the rocket will include 13 bays for CubeSats, shoe-box sized payloads that until now haven’t been delivered in significant numbers into deep space. Each of those payload operators is working to finalize contracts with NASA for the ride into space, and on Monday, Lockheed Martin announced a few details of its 6U CubeSat, called SkyFire. Lockheed’s payload will capture high-quality images of the Moon. And in exchange for the ride into deep space, NASA will receive data from the mission.
“The CubeSat will look for specific lunar characteristics like solar illumination areas,” James Russell, Lockheed Martin SkyFire principal investigator, said in a news release. “We’ll be able to see new things with sensors that are less costly to make and send to space.”
This is without doubt a great opportunity for Lockheed Martin and others to test the use of a cubesat in interplanetary space. Whether it makes sense to use SLS to launch them is another matter entirely.