CAPSTONE enters the target orbit

The CAPSTONE spacecraft has completed the final maneuver that allowed it to enter a predetermined orbit around the Moon. This is stated in a message published on the NASA website.

The main objectives of the CAPSTONE mission

The CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) satellite was developed by Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems by order of NASA. It is built on the basis of the CubeSat platform (12U), its weight is 25 kg.

CAPSTONE satellite (concept). Source: NASA

The main task of the device is to check a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) centered around the L2 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system. Its key feature is that at this point the gravitational forces of our planet and its moon mutually balance each other. That is, a spacecraft in NRHO orbit will practically not waste fuel to maintain its position. That is why NASA and ESA chose it to host the Gateway lunar orbital station.

CAPSTONE’s Hard Journey

CAPSTONE was launched by an Electron rocket on June 28, 2022. It became the first device launched by Rocket Lab into interplanetary space. However, it was not without problems. Shortly after separation from the Lunar Photon platform, contact with the device was lost. Fortunately, it was restored quickly enough.

The CAPSTONE device. Source: Rocket Lab

In September, CAPSTONE faced a much more serious situation. During the next course correction, the 25-kilogram device lost its orientation and began to rotate uncontrollably. This led to an interruption of communication with the Earth and power outages, due to which the temperature of its propulsion system dropped below the safe limit. During the subsequent analysis of telemetry, NASA specialists were able to establish that the valve of one of the eight low-thrust engines was the cause of the problems. Later, it was possible to turn it off and restore normal satellite control.

On November 13, CAPSTONE performed a maneuver that sent it into an NRHO orbit. In the following days, the satellite successfully carried out the final course corrections, which allowed NASA to announce that despite all the misadventures, it had reached its goal.

CAPSTONE is expected to operate in the NRHO orbit for at least six months. The designers of the Gateway station are looking forward to the data they have collected.

It is worth noting that in add-on to checking the orbit, CAPSTONE has another additional task assigned to it. The satellite will have to test an autonomous navigation system that will determine its position relative to the LRO probe without the help of ground stations.

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time