NASA says CubeSat with plasma thrusters may set new deep space record

Multiple payloads will be launched into space with the Orion spacecraft using the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Two of these secondary payloads will be CubeSats designed for deep space, including one equipped with plasma thrusters. According to the space agency, this small satellite will use electromagnetic waves to propel itself in space...and it may set a new record in the process.

NASA is closer than ever to launching the first integrated flight test of its Orion spacecraft and the SLS rocket, the combo of which comprise its Deep Space Exploration Systems. The first flight will be called Artemis I, and it'll include carrying 13 tiny satellites into space.

In a recent update on this plan, NASA revealed that two more CubeSats are ready to make their trips on this launch: the Team Miles CubeSat and JAXA's EQUilibriUM Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) CubeSat. Both of these satellites will be attached to Orion's stage adapter, which is the ring that connects the spacecraft with the rocket.

The Team Miles CubeSat, which comes from Miles Space, was made under NASA's Cube Quest Challenge; it will use the plasma thrusters to test this method of propulsion in deep space. An onboard computer will autonomously operate the satellite, which will also feature a radio for Earth-bound communication.

Assuming this CubeSat proves successful, NASA says it will manage to travel a greater distance than any other human-made craft in this class at 59.6 million miles. This would be nearly double the distance between Earth and Mars, for reference. JAXA's CubeSat, meanwhile, will zoom around in the space around Earth and the Moon where it will take photos of Earth's plasmasphere.