Artemis sends mini satellites on deep-space missions

The 10 satellites, called CubeSats, deployed from the upper stage of the rocket to conduct experiments.

November 21, 2022 in Space

NASA’s Artemis I mission has achieved one of its secondary objectives: releasing 10 shoebox-size satellites called CubeSats to complete missions beyond Earth’s orbit. Boeing technology helped make these moon and space studies happen.

The Space Launch System rocket’s upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS, steered the Orion spacecraft after the Boeing-built core stage separated about 8.5 minutes after liftoff. Firing its engine at two different points in the flight, the ICPS boosted the uncrewed Orion to an Earth-escape velocity on a precise path toward the moon.

ICPS is a modified Delta rocket second stage built by United Launch Alliance, or ULA, for Boeing. Orion is now on course for a historic nearly 26-day mission to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.

View from Orion View from Orion after separation from the ICPS. NASA photo

Next, the CubeSats were deployed one at a time from spring-loaded canisters in the Orion stage adapter, which remained attached to the ICPS.

“The ICPS’s most important attribute for this part of Artemis I is that it’s adapted from a Delta system that has a 100% successful mission history,” said Rob Broeren, ICPS program manager for Boeing. “Being part of the design team for the Delta IV rocket was a big career highlight for me. Watching ICPS do its job — and SLS take the first step toward sending humans to Mars — is even bigger.”

“Because SLS is the most powerful rocket in existence right now, and will be even more powerful in the future, it has huge payload capacities,” said Kip McClung, ICPS deputy program manager for Boeing. “In this mission, it’s not using anywhere near its full capacity. So there’s lots of room to bring up CubeSats.”

A NASA infographic on the Artemis I A NASA infographic on the Artemis I mission's secondary payloads. NASA infographic

All 10 science and technology payloads (see list below) were ejected between about three and a half to nine hours after launch. More than half of the small satellites are powered by solar cells built by Spectrolab, a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing.

“The Spectrolab solar cells used in six of the Artemis I CubeSats are about three times more efficient than those that landed on the moon’s surface in the 1960s,” said Spectrolab President Tony Mueller. “XTJ Prime solar cells destined for future lunar landing missions are in final assembly now at our California facility.”

The timing software and management of the CubeSat missions are NASA’s. McClung said Boeing provided trajectory analysis to ensure the satellites wouldn’t run into ICPS or Orion after their release. The data these secondary payloads gather will help NASA plan future crewed and uncrewed missions to deep space.

CubeSat One of the CubeSats being prepared for launch. NASA photo

McClung and Broeren watched the SLS launch and monitored the mission from the ULA facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station next to Kennedy Space Center. McClung, “a third-generation space guy,” said he was thinking of his grandfather, who took part in developing the Surveyor I spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1966, and his father, who helped train Apollo astronauts before taking on project management for the space shuttle.

“Dad and I still talk a lot of shop about the space program,” McClung said. “He’s excited about Artemis I and excited for me.”

With their mission accomplished, the integrated ICPS and Orion stage adapter are moving into a solar orbit far from Earth and its moon. For the Artemis II and III missions — when ULA-built upper stages will boost Orion spacecraft with astronauts onboard — NASA will assess opportunities to deploy more CubeSats.

Meanwhile, Boeing teams are building an even more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. It will provide in-space boosts for Artemis IV and beyond.

Visit Boeing’s Artemis I website for more information on the mission and the rocket. Follow @BoeingSpace for ongoing mission highlights and @Spectrolab_Inc for details on the secondary payloads powered by company technology.

Artemis I CubeSat payloads powered by Spectrolab solar cells:


NASA Ames experiment will use single-celled yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep-space radiation on living organisms.


Southwest Research Institute experiment will measure the sun’s particles and magnetic fields as a space weather station.


The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the University of Tokyo will image Earth’s radiation environment.


Arizona State University experiment will use neutron spectrometers to create high-fidelity maps of near-surface hydrogen at the moon’s south pole.

Lunar Ice Cube

Morehead State University experiment will search for water and other volatile materials on and around the moon with an infrared spectrometer.

NEA Scout

NASA Marshall demonstration will travel via solar sail to an asteroid and take images of its surface.

Other Artemis I CubeSat payloads:


A European Space Agency observation of the ICPS with advanced optics and a software imaging system.


Lockheed Martin mission will gather advanced infrared images of the lunar surface.


The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency will attempt to put the world’s smallest lunar lander on the moon’s surface to study its environment.

Team Miles

A one-year demonstration of advanced smallsat operations using plasma thrusters. A team of citizen scientists and engineers won its spot on Artemis I through a NASA competition.