Cislunar Explorers


Cislunar Explorers
Mission typeTechnology demonstration
OperatorCornell University
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftCislunar Explorers
Spacecraft typeCubeSat
Bus6U CubeSat
ManufacturerCornell University
Launch mass14 kg (31 lb)
Dimensions10 cm × 20 cm × 30 cm
Start of mission
Launch dateNovember 2021 (planned) [1]
RocketSLS Block 1
Launch siteKSC, LC-39B
Orbital parameters
Reference systemSelenocentric orbit
Moon orbiter
Commercial cameras
NASA CubeQuest Challenge

Cislunar Explorers is a pair of spacecraft that will show the viability of water electrolysis propulsion and interplanetary optical navigation to orbit the Moon.[2] 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.[3] It will be one of thirteen CubeSats to be carried with the Artemis 1 into a heliocentric orbit in cislunar space on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) planned to launch in 2021.[1]

Water powered

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.[4] 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.[4] Such a spacecraft could refuel at space-bound water sources, like asteroids, instead of bringing all the needed fuel along with it from Earth.[5][6]

Optical navigation

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.[5][7]

See also

The 13 CubeSats flying in the Artemis 1 mission
Other water-based propelled spacecraft


  1. ^ a b "NASA's large SLS rocket unlikely to fly before at least late 2021". Ars Technica. 17 July 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  2. ^ "Cislunar Explorers". Gunter's Space Page. 18 May 2020. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Cislunar Explorers - Streamlined, sustainable spacecraft". Wordpress. 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b Jennifer Harbaugh (22 May 2017). "Cube Quest Challenge Team Spotlight: Cislunar Explorers". NASA. Retrieved 12 March 2021. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ a b Sarah Lewin (16 September 2016). "Water-Powered CubeSat Satellite Shoots for the Moon". Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  6. ^ Tom Fleischman (15 September 2016). "Cornell's quest: Make the first CubeSat to orbit the moon". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  7. ^ "Cislunar Explorers - Optical Navigation". Wordpress. 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2021.