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Shoebox-sized satellites made by civs win trip on NASA's newest rocket

Three US teams clash in one far-out Robot Wars episode

Wide angle image makes the moon look much bigger than the earth
The CubeSats will voyage far beyond the Moon in a test of their communications abilities. Pic: NASA

Three citizen teams in the United States will get to fire deep-space satellites from NASA's newest rocket, Space Launch System, as part of the agency's Cube Quest Challenge.

The teams' shoebox-sized "CubeSats" will then compete in a space-themed, robotic version of Survivor to win $5m, NASA's largest-ever prize pot. Heart-wrenching challenges include orbiting the Moon, the fastest and farthest communication skills and, of course, staying alive.

"These CubeSat-class payloads are expanding our ability to explore by demonstrating affordable and innovative capabilities relevant to future deep space missions," Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator on NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The three teams – which yesterday passed the semi-final round of the world's first deep-space competition and received a sweet $20,000 in prize money – hail from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Fluid & Reason, LLC, a tech firm based in Tampa, Florida.

In early 2019, their CubeSats will launch onboard NASA's Exploration Mission-1, which bundles the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

In the Deep Space Derby segment of the competition, they'll have to communicate at least four million kilometres from Earth. That's over 10 times the distance to Earth from the Moon.

Far out, mate. ®

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