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$3,048 pledged of $50,000 goal
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By Cislunar Explorer
$3,048 pledged of $50,000 goal
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What is a prototype?

A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Projects that offer physical products need to show backers documentation of a working prototype. This gallery features photos, videos, and other visual documentation that will give backers a sense of what’s been accomplished so far and what’s left to do. Though the development process can vary for each project, these are the stages we typically see:

Proof of Concept

Explorations that test ideas and functionality.

Functional Prototype

Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.

Appearance Prototype

Looks like the final product, but is not functional.

Design Prototype

Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.

Production Prototype

Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.

E82572003075cbb75c4926a04b27128f original

Prototype Gallery

These photos and videos provide a detailed look at this project’s development.

About this project

The Big Picture

We're building spacecraft for sustainable exploration of the solar system. This spacecraft propels itself with water: by electrolyzing on-board H2O to create hydrogen and oxygen gas, a highly efficient fuel and oxidizer. Such a rocket can be readily refueled by gathering water from all the places it has been discovered in the Solar System: on moons, asteroids, even on Mars. The abundance of water on other worlds could be a boon to sustaining the future of space exploration. We are going to prove its potential by sending a pair of spacecraft to orbit the Moon as a technology demonstration.

We've been developing this technology at Cornell University for five years, and have recently partnered with the National Space Society to bring it to fruition in a pair of CubeSats. We have build and extensively tested every subsystem and are in the process of building the final spacecraft--for details, read on further down the page! Although the Cislunar Explorers will be the first water-powered spacecraft, we hope they will not be the last. To ensure this, we want to make our design open-source. Its technical details will be posted online, for anyone to build. By supporting this project, you contribute to the democratization of space exploration, lowering the barriers to making future spacecraft affordable and accessible to anyone.

Electrolysis Propulsion

Electrolysis Propulsion Operation
Electrolysis Propulsion Operation

The centerpiece of the Cislunar Explorers program is the use of water as a green, dense, and effective propellant. Hydrogen and oxygen have been used in rockets from the early days of space exploration, including the upper stages of the Saturn V used in the Apollo program. Historically, the two are stored separately on the launch vehicle or spacecraft, as cryogenic liquids. To carry enough hydrogen, in particular, necessitates the use of extremely high pressures and extremely low temperatures. It takes a complex apparatus to achieve this: pumps, pressure vessels, and heavy insulation to keep the storage units cold.

There is another way. Zapping H2O with electricity can overcome the bond between hydrogen and oxygen, decomposing the liquid into a gaseous mixture that readily combusts. Instant rocket, just add water!

A successful demonstration of electrolysis propulsion opens the door to future spacecraft gathering water from the surface of distant worlds to refuel themselves. The abundance of water throughout the Solar System has become increasingly clear in recent years. Our mission will demonstrate the untapped utility of all this water, along with robust, inexpensive supporting technologies. Water has been vital to exploration and settlement here on Earth; we believe it will be equally indispensable in space.

Thermal Vacuum Chamber, used to test our hardware in the extreme environments of space.
Thermal Vacuum Chamber, used to test our hardware in the extreme environments of space.

We are engaged in ongoing, extensive performance and environmental testing of the electrolysis propulsion system. Our electrolysis propulsion thruster, pictured below, has fired hundreds of burns in the thermal vacuum chamber here at Cornell. It's made of a 3D printed titanium alloy, and has weathered the simulated extremes of space inside our thermal vacuum chamber. After years of tweaks to the design and operational procedures, we are fabricating a new generation of thruster components to form the centerpiece of our final spacecraft.

3D Printed Titanium electrolysis propulsion thruster
3D Printed Titanium electrolysis propulsion thruster

 Symbiotic Subsystems

Our shiny new spacecraft hull
Our shiny new spacecraft hull

The Cislunar Explorers spacecraft leverage simple physics and symbiosis between several subsystems. The concept is a single rectangular 6U structure that splits into two L-shaped spinning spacecraft with a spring loaded separation mechanism. Each spacecraft has a tank of water in the bottom of the “L,” off-center from the spin axis. The spacecraft spin helps separate the combustible gas electrolyzed from the inert water like a centrifuge.

We mount the spacecraft electronics on the faces of the propellant tank, which will serve as a heat sink for waste energy produced during the mission. This helps keep our electronics from overheating and our water from freezing. Either would cause the end of the mission.

Symbiotic subsystems greatly simplify the design and operation of the spacecraft: key aspects of the mission work for each other’s benefit instead of needing to be solved independently. Synergy reduces complexity, and a streamlined spacecraft is a safe and inexpensive spacecraft.

The splitting of our two 3U spacecraft from each other.
The splitting of our two 3U spacecraft from each other.

 Optical Navigation

Optical Navigation Geometry Example
Optical Navigation Geometry Example

Celestial navigation is an ancient art. Explorers have found their way by the Sun and Moon for millennia. The Cislunar Explorers will be using a similar technique to tackle a new problem in an old way.

The motion of the Sun, Earth, and Moon are very predictable. One can look up the future motion of these bodies, or "ephemerides," many years in advance. We use several inexpensive cameras to take images all around our satellite as it zips through cislunar space, and compare the apparent size and position of the Sun, Earth, and Moon with their known ephemerides at the time each picture is taken. Using our knowledge of where the three bodies *are*, together with where the *appear to be* from the spacecraft's point of view, we can puzzle together the spacecraft's position and attitude: the one place in space where it could see the view that it sees, at the time that it sees it. In this way, we are able to find the spacecraft's position down to within tens of kilometers.

Attitude determination by reference to celestial bodies has been in use on spacecraft for a long time. Star trackers and sun sensors, for example, can determine which way a spacecraft is pointing. But they can not tell where in space it is located.

Our method is uniquely able to simultaneously determine position and attitude on board a spinning spacecraft. This technique can function with any three celestial bodies, at least one of which is resolvable as a discrete disc; these need not be the Sun, Earth, and Moon. In the future, another possible application of this technology could be exploring the moon systems of gas giants.

Optical Navigation Cameras
Optical Navigation Cameras

 

Optical Navigation Image Examples
Optical Navigation Image Examples

Accessible Design

Raspberry Pi usage
Raspberry Pi usage

Wherever possible, the Cislunar Explorers design makes use of inexpensive, off-the-shelf components. Our flight computer is a Raspberry Pi Model A+ (512 MB model). Our power subsystem was bought completely off the shelf rather than made in house. Certain components, such as 3D printed titanium and high efficiency solar panels, are unavoidably expensive, but the cost of both is dropping every year.

Our ultimate goal is to make space exploration accessible for anyone. By choosing inexpensive components, open-sourcing our design, and publishing our extensive test results, we will make all our lessons learned from the design process available for the world to build on. In doing so, we hope others will be able to follow our success--but we need your help to succeed, first.

Risks and challenges

Our team has experience designing and building spacecraft that have flown successfully, But this spacecraft is new. So, there will be a first time for many technologies on board. Your contribution will not only enable us to build and launch the spacecraft, it will also help us reduce the risks to the mission by enabling more thorough testing, higher-quality components such as top-of-the-line solar cells, more capable ground station facilities...and the list goes on.

Here are some risks as we see them now:

- The mission consists of two spacecraft that separate from each other with a spring. This clever technique gives each some angular momentum to stiffen the attitude (keeping each pointed in a desired direction), and it helps keep the water pressed up against one end of the fuel tank so that the engine ingests only combustible gases. But if this separation doesn't work, we'll have to expend some propellant to spin up the two spacecraft, which eats into the propellant budget for the mission.

- The tanks or the plumbing might leak. We hope not. We'll test it. But if it does, there's no way to refuel the spacecraft in this demonstration. Fortunately, we have two spacecraft. Only one needs to work!

- Communications may be too infrequent to execute the maneuvers we need, or electronics may fail because of radiation. Again, we've designed around this possibility, but it's always a risk. Again, with two spacecraft, everything about this mission is redundant--i.e., it tolerates at least one failure of any single item.

- The optical navigation may encounter unexpected lighting conditions, and if so, the mission will take longer because successful thruster firings require that the spacecraft know its position accurately.

These and many other technical issues are difficult challenges. But that's the nature of space technology. By trying this out, we hope to eliminate enough risks that this technology can be a viable option for future space exploration--by anyone!

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Your Tweet on Board

    We will include a 140 character message (ASCII only) of the backer's choice in the memory of both the two Cislunar Explorer spacecraft. They will carry this message for their entire mission, and the message will reside there for as long as the spacecraft remain in space (which might be thousands of years).
    You'll have the option for this message to be kept private or for it to appear online at the same site as the spacecraft schematics and software.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    National Space Society Membership

    As a thank-you, our collaborator, the National Space Society, will give you an introductory membership. This amount includes taxes and fees associated with the Kickstarter campaign. Then, if the Cislunar Explorers mission receives NASA's CubeQuest Challenge prize, and the prize we receive covers the costs of the project, this amount will be used by the NSS for its STEM and space advocacy efforts (so, if we reach the moon, you're giving twice!)

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Lunar T Shirt

    At this reward level there are two possibilities: (1) If the mission fails before reaching lunar orbit, we'll send you a T Shirt with an image of the spacecraft on the back and "Cislunar Explorer" on the front. (2) If the spacecraft reaches the moon, we'll include at least some form of data, such as the date the spacecraft enters lunar orbit or--ideally--a low-resolution picture of the moon from the on-board visual-navigation system.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    Send your Tweet to the Moon

    We will transmit a 140 character message (ASCII only) of the backer's choice toward the two Cislunar Explorer spacecraft at a point in the mission of our choosing (and we'll let you know ahead of time). This message will continue on past the moon into interplanetary, and then interstellar, space. Say hi to those nice folks on Proxima Centauri. This reward includes all lower-level rewards as well!

    You'll have the option for this message to be kept private or for it to appear online at the same site as the spacecraft schematics and software.

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    Pledge $400 or more About $400

    Send a Message from the Moon

    We will include a 140 character message (ASCII only) of the backer's choice in the memory of both the two Cislunar Explorer spacecraft. If they survive long enough, at least one of them will transmit this message back to Earth on a UHF frequency (roughly 437Mhz). It can be picked up on HAM radio equipment. This reward also includes all lower-level rewards!

    You'll have the option for this message to be kept private or for it to appear online at the same site as the spacecraft schematics and software.

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Launch Your Own Water Sample to the Moon

    Send your favorite water to space! It can help propel the prototype Cislunar Explorer spacecraft to the moon. A few drops from a sacred spring? A memento from a glacier from your Alaska trip? A sample from that fountain on campus where you proposed? L.A. tap? Provide us one gram (i.e. one cubic centimeter) of water of your choice. Although the propulsion system is very robust and doesn't need particularly clean water, we'll filter it and refine it as necessary to make sure the mission is successful.

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Funding period

- (40 days)