When CubeSats emerged onto the scene, and ideas began to materialize about their uses in Earth orbit, the prevailing thought was "that's impossible, you'll never do it," said Russell Cox, director of research for Flexure Engineering in Greenbelt, Md.
Robotic spacecraft launched by multiple nations, Cox
said, have found the moon to be a much more dynamic and complex place than anyone expected.
These missions, he
said, have generated more questions than answers ... so there are many scientific problems where one good, simple measurement could dramatically improve our understanding.
"Lots of people are going to the moon.
It's not all that hard to get there," Cox
"Many people are completely unaware that this capacity is becoming available," Cox
A trio of science briefings on LunarCubes will be staged between October and April of next year, he
added, to provide a thorough introduction to the topic and to start building bridges between science and technical communities.
What's required for a CubeSat to operate in the deep space environment?
The jump from CubeSats lingering in low-Earth orbit to working in deep space, Cox
said, means longer duration missions, taking on higher doses of radiation, and experiencing a more extreme thermal environment.
The dollar leap would be from an Earth-oriented CubeSat costing a few hundred thousand dollars to a moon-bound version requiring a cash outlay of a few million dollars, Cox
Still, that's dirt cheap, he
said, in contrast to any lunar mission that has an out-the-front-door price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Just understanding how the exhaust plume from the lander interacted with the soil is an interesting science and engineering question," Cox
A deployed rover could also haul several LunarCubes to be scattered away from the exhaust plume onto a pristine lunar site, he
"There are a bunch of raw science questions," Cox
said, "and likely plenty of interesting physics going on.
There's a lot of one-off science questions to be explored," he