CAPSTONE, or Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operation and Navigation Experiment, is the first step in NASA’s ambitious Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon by the middle of this decade. this oneMicro-wave ovenThe CubeSat-sized CubeSats are designed to map out an unusual orbit around the moon — called a Near Right-Angle Halo Orbit (NRHO) — that could eventually be used to build a lunar space station.
The space station, which NASA calls the “Gateway,” could open up a vast array of possibilities for human space exploration. It could be used to place rovers or humans on the moon as a resupply station, or even as a staging point for longer crewed missions to Mars or elsewhere. But first, the agency wants to collect more data on NRHO — and that’s what CAPSTONE does.
Communication was lost just a day after CAPSTONE was deployed from Rocket Lab’s lunar photon booster. Rocket Lab provided launch services and payload delivery for the mission. Advanced Space said in a statement that CAPSTONE was operating normally for the first 11 hours after detaching from the photon. It successfully deployed its solar panels and communicated with the Deep Space Network (DSN) ground station in Madrid, Spain. The DNS is a series of international large radio antennas that NASA operates in support of deep space missions.
It appears that the anomaly occurred during the second ground station pass with DSN, when CAPSTONE made partial contact with an antenna in California. As noted by SpaceNews, amateur satellite watchers first noticed CAPSTONE’s lack of a downlink and caused a little panic on Twitter. The first trajectory correction exercise — the first in a series of maneuvers to ensure the spacecraft remained on an accurate lunar landing trajectory — was delayed due to a lack of communications.
NASA noted in its July 5 mission update that CAPSTONE is still on track for the ballistic moon transfer to its target orbit, even with the delay of this first maneuver. “One of the benefits of BLT, the designed orbit, is its robustness to delays like this,” Advanced Space said in a mission update.
It is unclear why the underlying communication problem occurred or what action was taken to correct it. NASA said additional updates will be provided.