Cube Quest, a NASA-led prize competition, recently concluded with valuable lessons learned. The competition aimed to reward citizen innovators who could design, build, and deliver flight-qualified satellites called CubeSats that could operate independently of the Artemis I mission. Artemis I, which launched on November 16, 2022, carried 10 small satellites, including one from the Cube Quest Challenge, on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
Cube Quest began in 2015 with four ground-based tournaments that awarded nearly $500,000 in prizes. From these tournaments, three finalists emerged, earning a spot on the SLS rocket as secondary payloads and the chance to win the competition’s $5 million prize purse. Team Miles was the only team to successfully make the trip on Artemis I. After deployment in space, controllers detected downlink signals from the Team Miles CubeSat, confirming its operational status.
Denise Morris, Centennial Challenges Program Manager, expressed satisfaction with the outcomes of Cube Quest. The challenge aimed to advance CubeSat technologies for operations on the Moon and beyond, and Morris believes this goal was achieved. Naveen Vetcha, Challenge Manager, acknowledged that innovation often comes with errors and setbacks. However, he emphasized that failures provide opportunities for growth and learning. Vetcha highlighted the technologies developed by competitors that will enable affordable deep space CubeSats as a significant achievement.
Team Miles, despite being the furthest in the Cube Quest Challenge, continues to participate in the competition after launch. They have established Miles Space LLC, which develops and sells propulsion systems for commercial aerospace companies. They have also expanded their capabilities to include hardware for communications. Another finalist team, Cislunar Explorers, is using their lessons learned to benefit the global small satellite community.
Cube Quest has also inspired a generation of space scientists. Several team members credited the challenge as a catalyst for their graduate thesis or Ph.D. research. One participant, Braden Oh, had his entire career trajectory redirected by Cube Quest. Initially intending to study computer science, Oh was inspired by the competition to pursue engineering instead. Cube Quest has also led to partnerships and consulting work for participants, allowing them to share their experiences in building interplanetary CubeSats.
The Cube Quest Challenge was managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. The program is housed at the Marshall Space Flight Center and is a part of NASA’s Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate.