2013.B.3.1 LunarCube: CubeSat Based Architecture for Science-Driven Lunar Exploration


Pamela Clark (1), Robert MacDowall (2), Scott Schaire (3), Noah Petro (2), Russell Cox (4)

  1. Catholic University of America, USA
  4. Flexure Engineering, USA




lunarcube, science-driven design, deep space, lunar orbiter


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 the great scientific interest and utility of the Moon and its suitability as a testbed. The ruggedness of the terrain and the month-long diurnal cycle combined with great variation in illumination and temperature, especially near the poles, produce a surface with analogs for virtually every body in the solar system. Lunar missions flown during the last five years have indicated not only the ubiquitous presence of volatiles on the Moon, and by implication most surfaces in the solar system, but the complex, yet little understood, nature of the interactions between volatiles, regolith, dust, energetic particles, fields, and radiation, with implications for solar system formation or ongoing processes. The extreme range of conditions makes the Moon an ideal core technology testbed. We are looking at a series of progressively more challenging missions, 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 as a function of latitude and time of day for representative features and regions. We have identified particular design drivers and potential solutions for LWaDi. We have several candidate low energy transfer trajectories requiring low delta-V suitable for compact microthrust propulsion systems with form factor of </=2U.  Thermal design for long duration, high radiation and large thermal variation tolerant yet compact bus and components is underway. We have identified two suitable design concepts for the miniaturized yet robust and adequately sensitive sensor systems with compact optics. We have identified components for a compact, active GNC systems; compact, long-range communication capabilities, and compact, efficient C&DH systems with greater capability for data handling and on-board processing.


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