On May 3, the CAPSTONE space probe, of the CubeSat type, flew closely over the vicinity of the lunar South Pole. This month it has also been testing guidance technology for lunar paths roughly equivalent to what GPS does for guidance on Earth.
CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment), is a CubeSat the size of a microwave oven that flies in a special elliptical orbit around the Moon. This orbit is the same one planned for the Gateway, a future space station that will be in lunar orbit and that will serve as support for NASA’s Artemis missions.
NASA’s CAPSTONE was launched into space on June 28, 2022. On November 14 (or 13, depending on the time zone), 2022, it orbited the Moon. To do so, it was helped by igniting its thrusters, thanks to which it successfully completed its orbital insertion maneuver.
CAPSTONE is the first spacecraft to stay in an orbit of its kind (technically defined as “near rectilinear halo orbit,” or NRHO) and the first CubeSat to operate on the Moon.
For months, he has studied the dynamics of this peculiar orbit in situ.
Artist’s impression of the CAPSTONE space probe in orbit of the Moon. (Image: NASA)
Testing the mission’s CAPS technology, comparable to the GPS system we have on Earth, involved two space probes: CAPSTONE and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). During the May 9 experiment, CAPSTONE sent LRO a signal designed to measure the distance and relative velocity between the two spacecraft. LRO then fed the signal back to CAPSTONE, where it was converted to a measurement. The test demonstrated the ability to make usable measurements by the CAPS software to determine the positioning of both spacecraft. This capability could provide onboard autonomous navigation information for future lunar missions.
These achievements are the epilogue of the CAPSTONE’s primary mission, the mission for which it was prepared. Having successfully completed it, the extra service time the ship enjoys due to its good condition will now be spent on a new mission. In this mission, it will continue in the aforementioned special orbit and carry out further tests of the experimental technologies on board. (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)