Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A 6U Cubesat
The LunaH-Map spacecraft

Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) is a planetary exploration program operated by NASA. The mission builds small, low-cost spacecraft for stand-alone planetary exploration missions. These spacecraft launch as secondary payloads on other missions. The missions are riskier than Discovery or New Frontiers missions. [1]

The program selects missions from multiple proposals and gives them some money to begin development. After early development they are analyzed to see if they are cost-effective and scientifically valuable during Key Decision Point-C. If they pass Key Decision Point-C then they move into full development. The missions must weigh less than 180 kg. [2] [3] So far only the first two missions have launched, and the remaining missions have struggled to stay within budget and find missions to launch with, and have been removed from multiple launches.


On August 8, 2015, the first two SIMPLEx missions were selected: Q-PACE and LunaH-Map. [4] They were both CubeSats and each had a maximum budget of $5.6 million. [5] Q-PACE launched on a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne as part of the ELaNa 20 mission. LunaH-Map is a 6U CubeSat that will map hydrogen on the Moon. The mission will launch as a secondary payload on Artemis-1. [6] [7]

Three SIMPLEx-2 missions were selected in 2019. Janus was going to launch with Psyche and fly past multiple binary asteroid, but was removed from that mission due to the Psyche spacecraft being delayed. Lunar Trailblazer will launch with IMAP to study the Moon's geology and map its water. [8] EscaPADE will send two small satellites to Mars to study its atmosphere. [2]

So far, only two missions in the SIMPLEx program has launched.

SIMPLEx missions
Name Selection Target Launching With Launch Date
Q-PACE SIMPLEx-1 Early Protoplanetary Disks ELaNa Rideshare 17 January 2021
LunaH-Map SIMPLEx-1 Moon Artemis-1 16 November 2022
Janus SIMPLEx-2 Binary Asteroids TBD TBD
Lunar Trailblazer SIMPLEx-2 Moon IM-2 2023


Q-PACE is a 3U CubeSat that would have studied the interactions of small particles in space in order to better understand early protoplanetary disks. The mission launched on January 17, 2021 on Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne as part of NASA's ELaNa program. Contact was never established with the CubeSat. [9] [10]


LunaH-Map (Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper) is a 6U CubeSat that will map Hydrogen on the Moon using a neutron spectrometer. This mission will launch as one of ten secondary payloads on Artemis 1. The mission was designed, built, and tested by Arizona State University. It will take over a year for LunaH-Map to reach its science orbit. After that, its 60 day science mission will begin. [11] [12]

Two Small Satellites with Solar Arrays
Janus Artistic Rendering


Janus will send two small spacecraft to explore binary asteroids. The two spacecraft were scheduled to launch with Psyche on a Falcon Heavy rocket. The two identical spacecraft (Janus A and B) are being built by Lockheed Martin and are powered by solar panels and rechargeable batteries. [13] [14] The original launch date for Psyche was August 1, 2022, but when that date was pushed to September 20, and then to 2023, NASA had to replan the trajectories for the Janus spacecraft. [15] The Psyche launch was then moved to October 2023, but this new launch date wouldn't allow Janus to complete its mission, so Janus was removed from the Psyche launch plan. [16]

Lunar Trailblazer

Lunar Trailblazer will study water ice on the Moon and determine how it formed, how common it is, and where it is. The small spacecraft will be capable of looking inside permanently shadowed craters for water ice. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. [17] [18] The spacecraft is scheduled to be completed in 2022 and will launch around the middle of 2023 as a secondary payload on IM-2, Intuitive Machines' second lunar landing. [19] The original plan was to launch Lunar Trailblazer as a secondary payload alongside IMAP in 2025, but since the spacecraft would have been ready years before it was scheduled to launch, NASA found an earlier launch opportunity. [9]


EscaPADE (Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers) will send two identical spacecraft to Mars. The spacecraft will be built by Rocket Lab and will be based on its Photon spacecraft bus. EscaPADE will study Mars' magnetosphere and how it has led to Mars' losing much of its atmosphere. The mission was originally going to launch with Janus and Psyche, but will not be able to. NASA has not yet found a different rideshare opportunity. [20] [21] [22]

See also


  1. ^ "NASA SOMA: SIMPLEx- Homepage". Retrieved 2022-01-06.
  2. ^ a b Almeida, Andres (2019-06-19). "SIMPLEx Small Satellite Concept Finalists Target Moon, Mars and Beyond". NASA. Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  3. ^ "NASA selects planetary mission proposals large and small". SpaceNews. 2019-06-27. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  4. ^ NASA, Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration Program Abstracts of selected proposals, August 8, 2015. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2022.
  5. ^ "CubeSats to the Moon". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  6. ^ "Explore Solar System and Beyond - PAC Meeting" (PDF). NASA. 1 March 2021. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  7. ^ Blufish (2021-07-23). "ASU-led LunaH-Map spacecraft delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center". AZ Big Media. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  8. ^ "NASA Confirms New SIMPLEx Mission Small Satellite to Blaze Trails Studying Lunar Surface". NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  9. ^ a b "NASA looking for earlier launch of lunar orbiter smallsat mission". SpaceNews. 2021-03-26. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  10. ^ "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details". Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  11. ^ "LunaH-Map - Satellite Missions - eoPortal Directory". Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  12. ^ University, Arizona State. "LunaH-Map spacecraft safely delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center". Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  13. ^ "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details". Retrieved 2022-01-05.
  14. ^ Tomaswick, Andy. "NASA's Janus Mission is Going to Visit Two Binary Asteroids". Universe Today. Retrieved 5 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Psyche launch delay forcing revamp of rideshare mission". SpaceNews. 2022-06-09. Retrieved 2022-06-30.
  16. ^ "Janus Mission Removed from 2023 Psyche Launch Manifest – Janus". Retrieved 2022-11-19.
  17. ^ NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2020-12-04). "Lunar Trailblazer: NASA Approves New Satellite to Map the Moon's Surface". SciTechDaily. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
  18. ^ "Lunar Trailblazer". Retrieved 2022-01-05.
  19. ^ "NASA moves up Lunar Trailblazer launch". SpaceNews. 2022-06-22. Retrieved 2022-08-06.
  20. ^ "An ESCAPADE to Mars, on the cheap". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  21. ^ "NASA's ESCAPADE Mission – Twin Martian Orbiters – Moves Toward Launch – ESCAPADE". Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  22. ^ "NASA Mars smallsat mission passes review". SpaceNews. 2021-08-28. Retrieved 2021-12-30.