An asteroid hunter, lunar flashlight and DNA kit: Nasa reveals experiments its mega rocket will carry on its first test flight

  • They will be included in 2018 flight of Orion and Space Launch System
  • NEA Scout will fly by a small asteroid, taking pictures and getting data
  • Lunar Flashlight will illuminate moon's craters and measure surface ice
  • BioSentinel will use yeast to measure the impact of deep space radiation

In 2018, Nasa will launch the Orion spacecraft using the largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built; the Space Launch System (SLS).

Tucked inside the stage adapter - the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS -will be 11 self-contained small satellites, each about the size of a large shoebox.

Now, the space agency has revealed three missions that will use these small satellites during the test flight to help develop technologies for astronauts travelling to deep space.

A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of Nasa's Space Launch System

A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of Nasa's Space Launch System

'Nasa is taking advantage of a great opportunity to conduct more science beyond our primary focus of this mission,' said Jody Singer manager of Nasa's Flight Programs and Partnerships Office.

'While this new vehicle will enable missions beyond Earth orbit, we're taking steps to increase the scientific and exploration capability of SLS by accommodating small, CubeSat-class payloads.'

The first is a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, using solar sail propulsion, will fly by a small asteroid, taking pictures and making observations.

It aims to improve the current understanding of the asteroid environment and yield key information for future astronauts exploring an asteroid.

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure, and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations beyond Low-Earth Orbit

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure, and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations beyond Low-Earth Orbit

THE CHOSEN EXPERIMENTS

Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, using solar sail propulsion, will fly by a small asteroid, taking pictures and making observations.

It aims to improve the current understanding of the asteroid environment and yield key information for future astronauts exploring an asteroid.

Lunar Flashlight will scout for locations on the lunar surface that are rich in resources that, once broken down into their component molecules, could be used in future exploration.

The hope is future astronauts can use the technology to produce building materials, propellant, oxygen and water.

BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure, and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations beyond Low-Earth Orbit.

This will help scientists understand the effects of the deep space environment on biological systems as we plan to send humans farther into space than ever before.

'A solar sail works best when deployed in deep space and SLS will get us there,' said Les Johnson, principal investigator for NEA Scout at Marshall.

'It will take us out of Earth orbit and to interplanetary space - where we need to be to deploy the solar sail. It's a perfect ride to begin our mission.'

Nasa's Lunar Flashlight will scout for locations on the lunar surface that are rich in resources that, once broken down into their component molecules, could be used in future exploration.

The hope is future astronauts can use the technology to produce building materials, propellant, oxygen and water.

Lunar Flashlight will use a large solar sail, similar to the NEA Scout sail, to reflect sunlight and illuminate the moon's permanently shadowed craters and then the science instruments will measure the surface water ice.

Meanwhile, BioSentinel will use yeast to detect, measure, and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations beyond Low-Earth Orbit.

This will help scientists understand the effects of the deep space environment on biological systems as we plan to send humans farther into space than ever before.

The BioSentinel mission will be the first time living organisms have travelled to deep space in over 40 years and the spacecraft will operate in the deep space radiation environment throughout its 18-month mission.

The experiments will be launched by Houston-based Nasa in 2018 during a test flight of the Orion spacecraft using the largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built; the Space Launch System

The experiments will be launched by Houston-based Nasa in 2018 during a test flight of the Orion spacecraft using the largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built; the Space Launch System

The missions are a key part of the historic test flight, dubbed Exploration Mission-1.

About 10 minutes after Orion and its service module escape the pull of Earth's gravity, the two will disconnect and Orion will proceed toward the moon.

Once Orion is a safe distance away, the small payloads will begin to be deployed, all at various times during the flight depending on the particular missions.

These CubeSats are small nano-satellites designed to be efficient and versatile.

The masses of these secondary payloads are light - no heavier than 30lb (14kg).

They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space.

'We are expanding the capabilities of this particular SLS test flight,' said Joseph Pelfrey, deputy manager of the Exploration and Space Transportation Development Office at Marshall.

'The rocket will be the strongest ever built by Nasa and we want to take advantage of that design.

'Flying secondary payloads is something we plan to do for missions to come and provide the science community an opportunity they haven't had before.'

They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space. Pictured is an artist's impression of the Space Launch System

They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space. Pictured is an artist's impression of the Space Launch System

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