CAPSTONE on target to reach lunar orbit after troubled journey

CAPSTONE on target to reach lunar orbit after troubled journey

Artist rendering of CAPSTONE in lunar orbit.
Gif: NASA/Daniel Rutter

NASA’s CAPSTONE performed its fourth of six planned trajectory correction maneuvers on Thursday, Oct. 27, setting the stage for the spacecraft’s arrival in an elliptical lunar orbit in less than two weeks.

The 55-pound Cubesat fired its propulsion system for 220 seconds during the planned maneuver, explained Advanced Space, the private company managing the mission for NASA. update. The fourth mission trajectory correction maneuver took place late last week, moving CAPSTONE ever closer to its final destination: lunar near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). The probe is expected to reach its operational orbit on November 13.

Advanced Space says the probe was 308,076 miles (495,800 kilometers) from Earth at the time of the maneuver, or about 69,000 miles (111,000 km) past the moon. NASA and its partners use ballistic lunar transfer (BLT) technique to transfer CAPSTONE to NRHO which, although complicated and long, is very economical. The spacecraft was launched on June 28 and has been flying independently in space for four months.

Once at NRHO, the $33 million cubesat will enter uncharted territory, as no spacecraft has ever operated in this highly elliptical orbit—one intended for the upcoming Gateway space station. CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, will test this orbit for NASA, setting the stage for Gateway and upcoming Artemis missions to the moon.

More on this story: This small moon-bound satellite could make its way to the lunar space station

The latest trajectory correction maneuver “validates the preparation, extensive analysis, teams working together and continued hard work to enable this mission to remain successful, especially after the recent anomaly,” said Alec Forsman, CAPSTONE mission operations manager at Advanced Space. .

Indeed, the the mission threatened to go sideways after the third course correction maneuver September 8. The Terran Orbital-built CAPSTONE lost control of its shaft and began to capsize, a serious situation that threatened to derail the entire mission. Unable to point its solar panels at the Sun, the CAPSTONE was unable to fully charge.

The recovery team eventually traced the problem to a partially open valve on one of the spacecraft’s eight thrusters, which the team fixed recovery sequence transfer to CAPSTONE a full month after the anomaly. Afrom NASA he adds: “The mission team will design future maneuvers to bypass the affected valve, including two remaining trajectory correction maneuvers scheduled before CAPSTONE’s arrival in lunar orbit.”

With the fourth trajectory correction maneuver completed, CAPSTONE is now days away from reaching lunar orbit and entering the demonstration phase of the mission. The probe will spend at least six months collecting operational data and testing autonomous spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation capabilities, the latter of which could eventually lead to spacecraft capable of determining their own location in space without outside assistance. The early successful test, in which NASA’s Deep Space Network enabled a conversation between CAPSTONE and the agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is a promising start to a demonstration of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, as Advanced Space calls it.

More: NASA will attempt to land a crew on the moon during the fourth Artemis mission

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