CAPSTONE Suffers Communications Glitch on Way to Moon

Credit: Advanced Space

The CAPSTONE satellite launched last week to orbit the Moon is having difficulty communicating with controllers on the ground, NASA said in a mission update.

Following successful deployment and start of spacecraft commissioning on July 4, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network. The spacecraft team currently is working to understand the cause and re-establish contact. The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network. If needed, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post separation trajectory correction maneuver for several days. Additional updates will be provided as soon as possible.

CAPSTONE is a CubeSat about the size of a microwave oven designed to circle the Moon in a near rectilinear halo orbit. The human-tended lunar Gateway space station set for launch later this decade will use this orbit, which will allow the facility to be in constant contact with Earth.

CAPSTONE’s mission objectives are to:

  • verify the characteristics of a cis-lunar near rectilinear halo orbit for future spacecraft
  • demonstrate entering and maintaining this unique orbit that provides a highly-efficient path to the Moon’s surface and back
  • demonstrate spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services that allow future spacecraft to determine their location relative to the Moon without relying exclusively on tracking from Earth
  • lay a foundation for commercial support of future lunar operations
  • gain experience with small dedicated launches of CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit, to the Moon, and beyond.

CAPSTONE began a four month journey to the moon last week after it was launched by a Rocket Lab Electron booster from New Zealand. It took seven firings of the company’s Photon kick stage to boost CAPSTONE out of Earth orbit.

Advanced Space of Westminster, Colo., developed and is operating the spacecraft. Terran Orbital of Irvine, Calif., built the CubeSat platform for the satellite. Stellar Exploration of San Luis Obispo, Calif. provided CAPSTONE’s propulsion system.