UH is developing technology for future Artemis missions to the Moon and Mars: Big Island Now

Researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have used space grants to develop new technology that will support NASA’s Artemis project.

Frances Zhu at the Astrofein Attitude Control Testbed for testing satellite control systems. Photo Courtesy: UH Manoa

UH Mānoa researchers from the Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology developed “Foundation Enablers” that advance the project’s satellite infrastructure for an extended presence on the moon. Satellites are important communication devices for transmitting information from space to earth.

The technology will not be used for the current Artemis-I mission, which is scheduled to launch November 16 at 1:04 am EST, which is November 15 at 8:04 pm HST. But NASA has funded the UH research team to develop the technology for use on future missions while providing a training ground for aspiring middle school, high school, and university scientists.

Artemis I is an unmanned mission to launch a rocket that will carry the Orion spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth to thoroughly test its system before future flights with astronauts. Artemis is part of the next era of human exploration of a sustained presence on the moon in preparation for missions to Mars.

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“The Artemis program symbolizes a rebirth of America’s space program, inspired by the Apollo program, which was arguably the culmination of the United States’ manned space program,” said Frances Zhu, assistant professor at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.

“NASA is investing in technology, but also in the next generation of space scientists and engineers, which they call the Artemis generation. The NASA grant we received to build these satellites has enabled UH to take a leading role in the development of aerospace educational tools and enhanced UH’s efforts in establishing an aerospace engineering program strengthen.”

UH’s Frances Zhu and her team developed low-cost CubeSat kits, which typically cost around $50,000 to $500,000, for about $5,000 per kit. Photo Courtesy: UH Manoa

UH Mānoa was one of six universities to receive space grants from NASA in 2020 as part of their Artemis Student Challenge program. Through the $750,000 grant, Zhu and her team developed low-cost CubeSat kits, which typically cost around $50,000 to $500,000, for about $5,000 per kit.

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The 1U kit includes onboard computing, communication components, dynamic sensors, an infrared camera, and a power system. It also includes comprehensive online educational material on spacecraft mission design.

Through an additional $450,000 Governor’s Emergency Education Relief grant from Governor David Ige in 2021, the team expanded its instructional materials, content, and kit changes for students in grades 6-12 of public, private, and charter schools in Hawaii .

The kits focus on the education and training of the “Artemis Generation”, the workforce who will design, build, fly and operate spacecraft that are part of the Artemis program. The small satellites can be launched around the earth or the moon to support the Artemis missions.

UH Mānoa’s Artemis team, composed of students, staff and faculty. Courtesy: UH Manoa
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NASA’s chief economist hopes every state will launch a small satellite, and Hawaii supports that mission by spearheading the design, manufacture, and curriculum of small satellite kits. Once student teams have a kit in their classroom, they can design a space mission, design the satellite payload and body, and modify the kit to build this spacecraft.

“Building an undergraduate spacecraft is a rare opportunity that gives participating students a head start on real space applications, making them more competitive in the economic market and benefiting the technological advancement of the space industry,” Zhu said. “Although student satellites are unlikely to work the first time, the experience of designing, building, and potentially flying satellites is an immensely educational and fun activity that leads to greater space missions.”

So far, the team has distributed three CubeSat kits to Windward Community College, Oklahoma State University and Cal Poly Pomona. The team plans to ship 22 kits to colleges on all major Hawaiian islands and six other states by the end of the year.

For more information on the Artemis CubeSat project, visit the Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory website.

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