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NASA's first SLS launch will send cubesats into deep space

The satellites will pave the way for future missions to Mars and beyond.

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NASA announced on Tuesday that the first mission for its new Space Launch System in 2018, dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will send more than a dozen mini-satellites as well as an unmanned Orion spacecraft into deep space.

The cubesats will test a number of design and technology ideas that will help researchers better understand the rigors of deep space travel ahead of NASA's planned missions to Mars. The satellites will perform a variety of tasks. The Skyfire cubesat from Lockheed Martin, for example, will gather vital data about the makeup of the lunar surface while the BioSentinel cubesat will use yeast monitor the long-term effects of deep space radiation on organisms and the CuSP "space weather station" will measure particles and magnetic fields in space to see if a network of such stations is practical. The unmanned Orion spacecraft will be sent into a stable orbit around the moon to show that it can be safely operated in tandem with the SLS. If the launch is successful, NASA can move on to crewed flights.

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