NASA mission operators have successfully reestablished contact with the CAPSTONE spacecraft after a short communications blackout. After CAPSTONE’s launch on July 4, the spacecraft successfully deployed its solar arrays and stabilised itself. It had also begun charging its onboard battery and had readied its propulsion systems for its first manoeuvre. It made initial contact with the Deep Space Network 9DSN) ground station in Madrid, followed by partial contact with the Goldstone ground station in California before communications blacked out.
These contacts were enough for NASA to determine CAPSTONE’s location and trajectory in space but NASA was not able to conduct a manoeuvre that would make corrections to increase the accuracy of its transfer to the lunar orbit. But now, the space agency is finally in contact with the CAPSTONE spacecraft and is therefore should be able to conduct the trajectory change manoeuvre that had to be delayed earlier.
One of the mission’s primary objectives is to test out CAPS (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System), CAPSTONE’s autonomous navigation software. During the mission, the CubeSat satellite aboard it will use NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as a reference point to understand its position in space, instead of relying on Earth-based satellites. If the software is successful in doing this, it will enable future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on Earth-based tracking.
Another objective of the mission is to test a novel orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). This very elongated orbit is at a precise balance point between the gravities of the Earth and the moon. This orbit offers high stability and requires very little energy to maintain. Once tested, this orbit could be used by the likes of Gateway, a space station that NASA plans to deploy to the lunar orbit as an ideal staging area for missions to the moon and beyond.