Recently, NASA has launched CAPSTONE, a microwave oven-sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds (25 kg).
What is it?
- CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is designed to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit.
- The satellite, launched on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, is heading toward an orbit intended in the future for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program.
- 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.
- 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 its 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.
- CAPSTONE will gain experience with small dedicated launches of CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit, to the Moon, and beyond.
- The spacecraft is currently in low-Earth orbit. It is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon.