Success! NASA’s CAPSTONE mission has arrived at the moon3 min read
Success! NASA’s CAPSTONE: The historic journey to the moon of a tiny NASA spacecraft has completed. NASA officials said in a brief statement that the milestone came after a successful engine burn that finished at 7:39 p.m. EST (0039 GMT on Nov. 14).
The CAPSTONE probe, weighing 55 pounds (25 kilogrammes), enterćd orbit around the moon on Sunday evening (Nov. 13), becoming the first cubesat to visit Earth’s nearest friend.
The manoeuvre placed CAPSTONE (short for “Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment”) in a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the moon, a highly elliptical path that NASA’s Gateway space station will also occupy.
NASA intends to launch the first components of Gateway, a critical component of the Artemis moon mission programme, in 2024. But first, the agency wants to understand more about lunar NRHOs, which is where CAPSTONE comes in: During a six-month mission, the microwave-sized spacecraft will test the suspected stability of this orbit, which no spacecraft has ever flown in before.
CAPSTONE will also conduct communication and navigation tests, some in collaboration with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009.
CAPSTONE, on the other hand, isn’t quite ready to get started; it still has to fine-tune its path around the moon.
“Two smaller correction manoeuvres will take place this week to guarantee the spacecraft is verified into the difficult lunar orbit,” Advanced Space officials, who own CAPSTONE and manage the cubesat for NASA, said in an update Sunday night.
CAPSTONE’s journey to lunar orbit was not without incident. On June 28, the probe was launched atop a Rocket Lab Electron launcher, beginning a 4.5-month journey that followed gravitational curves.
On July 4, the CAPSTONE team lost touch with the probe, shortly before it separated from Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft bus. They immediately detected and resolved the issue, an incorrectly formatted command, and got CAPSTONE back on track the next day.
Two months later, CAPSTONE came into more problems. On Sept. 8, the probe experienced a problem during a trajectory-correcting engine burn, causing it to tumble and enter a precautionary safe mode.
The mission team traced this problem to a wonky valve in CAPSTONE’s propulsion system, troubleshot it, and got the probe back on course for its historic lunar arrival.
CAPSTONE is a lunar trailblazer, but it is not the first cubesat to travel beyond Earth orbit. That honour goes to NASA’s MarCO-A and MarCO-B probes, also known as Wall-E and Eva, which launched in May 2018 alongside the agency’s InSight Mars lander. Six months later, the two cubesats assisted in beaming home data from InSight’s Red Planet touchdown and also managed to photograph Mars.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There,” a book about the search for alien life (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate).
You May Be Also Interested in:
- Elon Musk: ‘I have too much work on my plate’
- Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, a two-time UFC championship challenger, died at the age of 38
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: The Marvel Fan’s Guide, eyes 15 crore weekend figure
- Meta Fires 11,000 Employees, while Redfin Fires 862—Here Are the Biggest Layoffs in the United States This Year
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Arkansas’s first woman governor : Republican
- Nvidia to Sell New Chip in China: Says Meets US Export Ban