Dart header 2 (1).jpg
LICIACube and DART before DART's impact
Names Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids Cube
Mission type Planetary defense mission
Asteroidal exploration and study
Operator Italian Space Agency
COSPAR ID 2021-110C
Mission duration 10 days before and 3 days after impact (planned)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft LICIACube
Spacecraft type CubeSat
Bus 6U CubeSat
Manufacturer Argotec
Launch mass 14 kg (31 lb)
Dimensions 10 × 10 × 60 cm (3.9 × 3.9 × 23.6 in)
Start of mission
Launch date 24 November 2021, 06:21:02 UTC
Rocket Falcon 9 Block 5, B1063.3 [1]
Launch site Vandenberg, SLC-4E
Contractor SpaceX
Deployed from DART
Flyby of Didymos system
Closest approach 26 September 2022 (planned)
Distance 55 km (34 mi)
LICIACube Unit Key Explorer (LUKE)
LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid (LEIA)

Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) is a 6-unit CubeSat made by Italian Space Agency (ASI). LICIACube is a part of Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission and is built to carry out observational analysis of the Didymos asteroid binary system after DART's impact. It will communicate directly with Earth, sending back images of the ejecta and plume of DART's impact as well as do asteroidal study during its flyby of the Didymos system, 3 days after the Dart's impact.[2] LICIACube is the first purely Italian autonomous spacecraft in deep space, also for the ground segment (GS), with data archiving and processing managed by the Space Science Data Center (SSDC) of ASI.

LICIACube CubeSat a companion satellite of DART spacecraft


LICIACube is the first deep space mission developed and autonomously managed by an Italian team: to collaborate towards the design, integration and testing of the CubeSat, the Italian Space Agency has selected the aerospace company Argotec, while the LICIACube GS has a complex architecture based on a mission control center hosted by Argotec, antennas of the NASA Deep Space Network (NASA DSN) and data archiving and processing, managed at the ASI SSDC. The scientific team making this cubesat is led by National Institute of Astrophysics INAF (OAR, IAPS, OAA, OAPd, OATs) with the support of IFAC-CNR and Parthenope University of Naples. The team is enriched by University of Bologna, for orbit determination and satellite navigation, and Polytechnic University of Milan, for mission analysis and optimisation. The LICIACube team includes a wide Italian scientific community, involved in the definition of all the aspects of the mission: trajectory design; mission definition (and real-time orbit determination during operations); impact, plume and imaging simulation and modelling, in preparation of a suitable framework for the analysis and interpretation of in-situ data. The major technological mission challenge, i.e. the autonomous targeting and imaging of such a small body during a fast fly-by, to be accomplished with the limited resources of a CubeSat, is affordable thanks to a strong synergy of all the mentioned teams in support of the engineering tasks.

Satellite design

In order to deal with the mission, the Argotec platform uses an autonomous navigation system, two light solar arrays, an integrated propulsion system, two cameras, X-band communication system and an advanced on-board computer.

Scientific payload

LICIACube is equipped with two optical cameras for conducting asteroidal reconnaissance during flyby, dubbed LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer), a narrow field of view (FoV) camera and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), a wide FoV imager with an RGB Bayer pattern infrared filter. These will capture scientific data telling about the composition of the asteroid and inform its autonomous system by finding and tracking the asteroid throughout the encounter. Due to it being released in a phase when DART will gear up for its intentional impact, it plans to take a image every 6 seconds during the DART's impact period with preliminary targets of flyby being to take 3 high resolution images telling about the asteroid's morphology and rest being concentrating on the physics of the asteroid and plume generations after impact. This may help in characterising the consequences of the impact.

Mission profile


LICIACube was manufactured in Italy and sent to Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of Johns Hopkins University in September 2021. There on 8 September 2021, the LICIACube was integrated on DART spacecraft for launch on 24 November 2021, at 06:21:02 UTC, inside a spring-loaded box placed on the wall of DART spacecraft.

Cruise phase and flyby

After the launch, the CubeSat remains enclosed within a spring-loaded box and thus is piggybacked with Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), almost the entire duration of DART's mission. It will separate shortly by kicking out of a that box situated on (DART) spacecraft at roughly 4 km/h (2.5 mph), 10 days before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid, 3 days after the impact.[3][4][5][6]

Mission after flyby

After the flyby, it will spend a few weeks time in sending the data to the ground team and may die off or look for another potential asteroid visit depending on its health and remaining propellant stored in it after the flyby.


It is built with the aim of achieving:

  •  Documenting the DART impact's effects on the secondary member of the 65803 Didymos binary asteroid system
  •  Characterizing the shape of the target
  •  Performing dedicated scientific investigations on it


See also


  1. ^ "NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission". NASA. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2019. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Cheng, Andy (15 November 2018). "DART Mission Update". ESA. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  3. ^ Asteroids have been hitting the Earth for billions of years. In 2022, we hit back. Archived 2018-10-31 at the Wayback Machine Andy Rivkin, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory 27 September 2018
  4. ^ Kretschmar, Peter; Küppers, Michael (20 December 2018). "The CubeSat Revolution" (PDF). ESA. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  5. ^ Adams, Elena; Oshaughnessy, Daniel; Reinhart, Matthew; John, Jeremy; Congdon, Elizabeth; Gallagher, Daniel; Abel, Elisabeth; Atchison, Justin; Fletcher, Zachary; Chen, Michelle; Heistand, Christopher; Huang, Philip; Smith, Evan; Sibol, Deane; Bekker, Dmitriy; Carrelli, David (2019). "Double Asteroid Redirection Test: The Earth Strikes Back". 2019 IEEE Aerospace Conference. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1109/AERO.2019.8742007. ISBN 978-1-5386-6854-2. S2CID 195222414. In addition, DART is carrying a 6U CubeSat provided by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI). The CubeSat will provide imagery documentation of the impact, as well as in situ observation of the impact site and resultant ejecta plume
  6. ^ Fahnestock, E.; Yu, Y.; Cheng, A. F. (2018). "DART Impact Ejecta Simulation and Visualization for Fly-Along CubeSat Operational Planning". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 2018: P51A–07. Bibcode:2018AGUFM.P51A..07F.

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