Billy Brown

ITHACA-  A group of graduate and undergraduate students at Cornell University, advised by Dr. Mason Peck, recently competed in the Cube Quest Challenge and, along with two other groups, won the chance to launch their CubeSats on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1.

The Cube Quest Challenge, sponsored by the Space Technology Mission Directorate, is divided into three distinct rounds: Ground Tournaments, Deep Space Derby, and Lunar Derby. The competition offers the general public a means of contributing to NASA’s 2019 journey to the moon. Cornell’s Cislunar Explorers, having tasted success in the first stage, stand to gain $1.5M in addition to the initial award of $100,000 for a winning design. The subsequent portions of the competition will test the capacities of the CubeSats in deep-space as well as near-Earth communications. Through these exercises, NASA hopes to set a precedent of allowing non-government spacecraft to participate in deep-space exploration.

Stated simply, the team constructed two Cislunar Explorers that combine to form a shoebox-sized rectangular structure. Upon reaching optimal conditions, each Explorer is equipped to split into an L-Shaped half. The design boasts efficient and versatile features, including self-propulsion via electrolyzed water, spinning architecture, and optical navigation among other innovative ideas. Doctoral Student Kyle Doyle, a key member of the Cislunar Explorers team, reveals that the electrolysis propulsion technology has been in development since 2009.

Potential advantages of incorporating these strategies range from reduced operating costs to increased spacecraft longevity. The Cislunar Explorers team, based in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, indulges its creativity in the comfort of its own thermal vacuum chamber and radio ground stations, facilities dedicated to supporting lunar orbit. With the Cislunar Explorers’ recent triumph, there is a spike in excitement and motivation surrounding the project. Team members are eager to challenge and improve their designs in upcoming phases of the Cube Quest Challenge.

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