CAPSTONE enters lunar orbit

ORLANDO — A NASA-funded cubesat efficiently accomplished a maneuver to enter orbit across the moon Nov. 13.

NASA introduced that the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Expertise Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft, a 12U cubesat, accomplished a 16-minute maneuver at 7:39 p.m. Jap, putting the spacecraft right into a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) across the moon. Information from the spacecraft confirmed that the maneuver befell as anticipated.

“That could be a enormous step for the company,” Jim Free, NASA affiliate administrator for exploration methods growth, stated at a Nov. 13 briefing about preparations for the Artemis 1 launch.

CAPSTONE is designed to check the steadiness of the NRHO, the orbit that NASA plans to make use of for the lunar Gateway. The spacecraft, operated by Colorado-based Superior Area, may also check autonomous positioning applied sciences by a hyperlink to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“This can be a crucial orbit for us right here on the Artemis program, particularly, as a result of that’s the place we’ll fly Gateway,” Free stated. “As CAPSTONE flies in that orbit for about six months, we’ll get extra information to know and characterize that orbit.”

CAPSTONE is the primary spacecraft to fly within the NRHO, an elliptical orbit over the moon’s poles at altitudes starting from 3,500 to 71,000 kilometers. It is usually the primary cubesat to enter any orbit across the moon.

CAPSTONE launched on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket June 28 and, after a collection of maneuvers by Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon kick stage, was deployed onto a low-energy ballistic lunar trajectory July 4. That trajectory took the spacecraft far past the moon earlier than swinging again to permit it to enter orbit with a small maneuver.

CAPSTONE’s cruise was not with out incident. The spacecraft misplaced communication with Earth shortly after deployment due to a glitch throughout commissioning, however contact was restored about a day later. The spacecraft went into safe mode during a trajectory correction maneuver in September, which engineers later traced to a valve downside with certainly one of its thrusters. Controllers restored CAPSTONE to normal operations a month later.

Whereas the orbital insertion maneuver was profitable, NASA stated that two “clear up” maneuvers are scheduled for this week. After that, NASA and Superior Area will be capable to verify that CAPSTONE is within the desired orbit. CAPSTONE, with a complete price to NASA of about $30 million, has a six-month major mission however the potential to function for an extra 12 or extra months in an prolonged mission.

Whereas CAPSTONE is the primary cubesat to orbit the moon, it might quickly be joined by a number of others. The Artemis 1 mission, scheduled to launch as quickly as Nov. 16, carries 10 cubesats, a few of which can fly by, orbit, or land on the moon. One other NASA cubesat, Lunar Flashlight, is slated to launch to the moon later this month as a secondary payload on the launch of a commercial lunar lander by Japanese company ispace.

Superior Area is now engaged on a second cislunar smallsat mission. The Air Force Research Lab awarded the company a $72 million contract Nov. 10 to build Oracle, a mission to check house situational consciousness applied sciences past Earth orbit out to the moon. Oracle is scheduled to launch in late 2025 for a two-year mission.

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