|Mission type||Technology demonstration|
|Launch mass||14 kg (31 lb)|
|Dimensions||10 cm × 20 cm × 30 cm|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||NET 2022 (planned)|
|Reference system||Selenocentric orbit|
Cislunar Explorers is a pair of spacecraft that will show the viability of water electrolysis propulsion and interplanetary optical navigation to orbit the Moon. Both spacecraft will launch mated together as two L-shaped 3U CubeSats, which fit together as a 6U CubeSat of about 10 cm × 20 cm × 30 cm.
The technology demonstrator spacecraft pair is being developed at Cornell University in New York, by a team of researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates. The spacecraft were originally intended to launch onboard the Artemis 1 mission into a heliocentric orbit in cislunar space in 2021; delays caused by difficulties during integration led to their removal from the Artemis 1 manifest.
The two spacecraft feature an unusual water electrolysis propulsion system that splits the bond between hydrogen and oxygen, producing combustible gaseous mixture that can be used as engine propellant. This propulsion system will be used to enter lunar orbit. The mission designers comment that if this water-based propulsion technology is successful, it may enable in situ resources for refueling landers for commercial or science purposes. Such a spacecraft could refuel at space-bound water sources, like asteroids, instead of bringing all the needed fuel along with it from Earth.
Since the purpose of the Cislunar Explorers is to test a novel propulsion system, they will simply be injected in "any lunar orbit" and maintain it for as long as possible. Cislunar Explorers will navigate completely autonomously, with minimal control from Earth. Cislunar Explorers will each use commercial cameras that enable them to view the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. By computing the sizes of each of these objects and their locations relative to one another, the two spacecraft will deduce their locations.