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Water-Powered Cubesat Satellite: The First OF Its Kind To Be Launched To The Moon

Water-Powered Cubesat Satellite: The First OF Its Kind To Be Launched To The Moon

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First Posted: Sep 20, 2016 06:40 AM EDT
CubeSat Flight Model
Flight Model of the CubeSat that is to be launched to the Moon next year. Thuvt / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

A team from the Cornell University is on an ambitious space quest with an aim to send a very small satellite, about the size of a cereal-box to the Moon. To make it more impressive, the satellite is to be powered by water.

The team also called Cislunar Explorers, is led by the NASA's former chief technologist Mason Peck. The team is trying to build an economic satellite of the size of a cereal box, called, 'CubeSat'. The satellite will have a water-based propulsion system to navigate itself in space. "The mission has a very important objective to demonstrate that we can use water also as a propellant," said Peck in a statement given earlier.

The Cislunar Explorers are participating in one of NASA's Centennial Challenges, particularly 'the Cube Quest Challenge'. Any team that can perfectly design, build and also deliver small satellites that are capable of entering the orbit around the Moon will be given $5.5 million. The team is giving its best to be one of the three teams that will get a chance to hitch a ride for the Moon on NASA's up-coming Space Launch System in the early 2018.

"Obviously, we'd love to be the first CubeSat that gets to orbit the moon," Peck added, "but even if we don't make it, if we can successfully show that water is everything you need to travel in space, we'd have gone a long way towards achieving some very important goals."

To use water as a fuel in their satellite, the team has developed a new approach to electrolysis: the techniques that use electricity to break apart the water molecules. Hydrogen and oxygen extracted from the process are all someone needs to make the rocket fuel. After sweeping by the Moon, the CubeSat is supposed to use this process to generate propulsion in an attempt to enter the Moon's orbit. "A lot of the matter we send into orbit at present is in the form of rockets as it's the only way we can get anything into space," Peck said.

"But if we could use what's already there to refuel spacecrafts while they're already in space, that means that we could go much farther, probably faster, and accomplish a lot more, without relying on Earth for supplies." The winners of the next phase of the competition are to be announced on October 24.

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