Students from 193 countries to send 500 spacecraft to the moon

depiction of lunasat on the lunar surface

Teams of high-school and college students from all 193 countries of the United Nations will send 500 miniature spacecraft to the surface of the moon as part of the Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE).

The mission is being led by NASA’s New York and Colorado Space Grant Consortia, and the palm-sized spacecraft, called LunaSats, are based on technology developed at Cornell University by Mason Peck, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the New York Space Grant Consortium.

Earlier this year, Peck and his collaborators at Stanford and NASA deployed into space tiny Sprite ChipSats that successfully sent short telemetry signals back to Earth.

lunasat next to ruler
A prototype LunaSat measures just 5 centimeters in width and weighs less than 5 grams. Credit: Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

“We’ve been developing these small spacecraft for over a decade. They have flown in low Earth orbit and have proven that we can democratize access to space,” said Peck, former chief technologist for NASA. “The next, not-so-small step is for these to survive on the lunar surface, which will take some redesign of the power and communications subsystems.”

The LunaSats, each of which will cost less than $200, will collect valuable data on conditions at the lunar surface. And they’ll be designed and built by students, said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“As we all celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, let us tell the world we are going to the moon with a new mission conducted by students from countries across the globe, and we will be there by 2023,” Koehler said.

GLEE will also include community outreach activities and will cultivate a global citizen science network, he added.

Eleanor Glenn ’22, an engineering student involved with GLEE, hopes the mission can excite an entire generation of students, just as the Apollo missions once did.

“Those dreams of space are increasingly removed from the general population. Reconnecting students and institutions with the scientific possibilities of our moon using accessible technology puts our minds and imaginations back there, reawakening the dream for individuals and inspiring career paths of space exploration,” said Glenn.

Groups of high-school and college students can apply to get involved in GLEE beginning in December 2019. Participation will be free for all teams. In the meantime, mission leaders are seeking support from universities and private companies around the world. Over 20 consortia have so far joined the mission.

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