|Operator||ASI / NASA|
|Dimensions||12 cm x 24 cm x 36 cm|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||November 2021 (planned) |
|Rocket||SLS Block 1|
|Launch site||KSC, LC-39B|
|Reference system||Heliocentric orbit|
ArgoMoon is a nanosatellite that will fly on NASA's Artemis 1 mission into a heliocentric orbit in cislunar space on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft, in 2021. The satellite has the dimensions of a shoe box (12 cm x 24 cm x 36 cm) in CubeSat terms, it is a 6U.
The objective of the ArgoMoon mission is to provide NASA information about the correct launch vehicle operations through photography. At the time the second stage will release the CubeSats, it will not be able to communicate with the ground anymore. Flying ArgoMoon in the Artemis-1 mission will also be the opportunity to test nanosatellite technology in the hostile environment of deep space. ArgoMoon will complete its operations using a proprietary software for autonomous navigation.
The space capsule Orion MPCV is the Artemis 1 primary payload. The main focus of the Artemis 1 mission is demonstrating the SLS and Orion operations. Orion will be injected by the SLS in a translunar trajectory and it will orbit the Moon, testing the capsule operations according to a future crewed mission path. The absence of cargo opened the opportunity for several low-mass CubeSats (a class of nanosatellites) to be included in the mission as secondary payloads.
In September 2015, NASA opened an invitation to tender to take part in the mission with the design of 13 nanosatellites (6U, according to the CubeSat standards). Among the proposals evaluated by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the European Space Agency (ESA), and finally NASA, the Argotec proposal was one of the selected spacecraft. ArgoMoon will be the only European satellite to participate in the mission.
According to the SLS documents that NASA attached to the call, Argotec engineers noticed the inability of the second stage of the launcher to send telemetry during a CubeSat release phase, which occurs a few hours after the release of the primary payload: the Orion capsule. It was this issue that triggered the proposal of a satellite capable out of performing a proximity flight with the release vehicle to take photographs and providing an inspection to confirm the success of operations.
Before being injected into a heliocentric orbit because of the lunar flyby, ArgoMoon will perform a propulsive maneuver to close in a geocentric orbit. The second part of the mission will last a few months up to the natural decay of the satellite. During these months, the satellite will collect telemetry validating the nanotechnology on board the platform in the hostile environment of deep space. Up to now, CubeSats were mainly targeted to Earth observation missions, where the satellite are naturally shielded from radiation by the Earth's magnetic field.
Another peculiarity of ArgoMoon is the use of radiation-resistant components. The absence of the protection provided by the magnetosphere requires the selection of components that have been designed and tested to withstand radiation. In order to provide detailed photographs of the mission, ArgoMoon is equipped with a narrow field of view camera to acquire inspection photography. This optical payload is supported by another one with wide field of view to provide images to the onboard computer where an imaging software process them in order to perform autonomous navigation and target fine pointing.
In September 2015, Argotec delivered the ArgoMoon proposal to NASA. The proposal was reviewed and approved by Italian Space Agency (ASI), European Space Agency (ESA) and then by NASA. The project is coordinated by the Italian Space Agency and the satellite launch is planned as a secondary payload of the Artemis 1 mission.
Argotec engineers worked in the definition of the mission objectives and phases, the mission analysis, and the configuration of the satellite. The electrical power subsystem, the on-board computer, and the on-board software are designed and developed by Argotec as well, including the imaging software for target recognition and pointing.