As part of the space agency’s CubeQuest Challenge, National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to send three CubeSats into deep space on the first flight of the Space Launch System in 2019. Teams led by the University of Colorado, Cornell University as well as Tampa Hackerspace. In addition to any competitors who can find their own launches, those teams will compete for $5 million in a series of prizes for CubeSats that demonstrate longevity in deep space and robust data communications. CubeQuest challenge administrator at the NASA Ames Research Center, James Cockrell, stated that in 2014, NASA established the CubeQuest Challenge to resolve whether citizen inventors could find affordable and unique ways to build miniature spacecraft.
NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate associate administrator, Steve Jurcyzk said that he was surprised after seeing the dedication of all the unpaid CubeQuest team members who took advantage of the advances in miniature electronic components as well as movement to come up with innovative designs. The team’s project manager and a Cornell Ph.D. student, Kyle Doyle said, “I’m excited about that because in the future you could go to Mars, Europa or a comet, gather up water and refuel your spacecraft”. Further Kyle Doyle added, “We want to show that if you can use water as a spacecraft propellant, you could do that with water from anywhere”. CU-E3 cubesat team from The University of Colorado designed a deployable flat-panel antenna array for high data rate communications. Rather than propulsion, the team uses solar pressure to keep the CubeSat moving in the right direction. Team Miles leader and a software engineer, Wesley Faler said that the third team for SLS light comes from Tampa’s Hackerspace rather than a university. A third team is a group of scientists and engineers with day jobs who spend evenings and weekends designing as well as testing CubeSat components.