Science & Technology
13th Jul, 2022
NASA recently launched CAPSTONE, a microwave oven-sized CubeSat that will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit.
- CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is designed to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit.
- It is a microwave oven-sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds (25 kg).
- As a pathfinder for Gateway, CAPSTONE aims to help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies, and by verifying the dynamics of the halo-shaped orbit.
- Halo-shaped orbit:
- The orbit is known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO).
- It is significantly elongated, and is located at a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon.
- This offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway.
- At the Moon, CAPSTONE will enter NRHO, where it will fly within 1,600 km of the Moon’s North Pole on its near pass and 70,000 km from the South Pole at it’s farthest.
- The spacecraft will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.
- 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