We are in the process of applying the CubeSat Paradigm for science-driven missions of lunar exploration using an architecture known as LunarCube. We have been conducting system definition and design activities, with focus on resolving the challenges of using a standardized platform and maintaining a cubesat form factor for CubeSats missions to operate near or on the Moon. Our long-term goal is cost-effective, generic design for a broad cross-section of future high priority space or surface payloads for planetary, heliophysics, and astrophysics disciplines. We focus on architecture for lunar exploration because of its proximity and accessibility as a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system, combined with the great international scientific interest in the Moon and its suitability as an analog with extreme range of conditions and thus an ideal technology testbed for much of the solar system.
Some of our team, in collaboration with others, have already been conducting system definition and design activities, with focus on resolving the challenges of using a standardized platform and maintaining a cubesat form factor for CubeSats missions to operate near or on the Moon. We are looking at a series of progressively more challenging lunar missions that would use the CubeSat paradigm, including an orbiter, an impactor, and a pathfinder observatory, and considering designs using technology available now, in five years, and in ten years. Our current target is a simple orbiter with a single instrument (Lunar Water Distribution (LWaDi), a near infrared spectrometer, using state of the art hardware and software. The mission goal would be to characterize water and water components for small areas representative of major lunar terrains and features at a variety of latitudes (upper, mid, equatorial), as a function of time of day (dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk).
Of particular import are the development of capability to create readily families of low energy transfer routes to cislunar space which require far less fuel than conventional routes, the development of sensor system design concepts for the miniaturized yet robust and adequately sensitive sensor systems with compact optics, as well as developing a reasonable low delta V trajectory using a </= 3U in-space propulsion system; durable radiation hard and thermally robust protection to maintain the sensor system below 150K; and adequate GNC, communication (S-band deployable) and C&DH (SpaceCube) capabilities that fit within a cubesat form factor.