NASA’s small CAPSTONE lunar probe has bounced back from its recent hiccup.
The 55 pounds (25 kilograms) CAPSTONE successfully performed its first engine burn today (July 7), an 11-minute maneuver that began at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) and changed its speed to 45 mph (72 km/h) as planned, officials from NASA said in an update (opens in a new tab).
CAPSTONE is now about 289,000 miles (465,000 kilometers) from Earth, agency officials added. It is well beyond the orbit of the moon, but that’s part of the plan; the probe is taking a long, looping, highly fuel-efficient path that will take it into lunar orbit on November 13.
Related: Why NASA’s tiny CAPSTONE probe will take so long to reach the moon
Today’s burn was originally scheduled to happen on Tuesday (July 5), but the CAPSTONE team delayed it after briefly lose contact with the cubesat. This loss of communication occurred on Monday, July 4, shortly after CAPSTONE separated from its Rocket Lab. Photon space bus and began its long solo journey to the moon. (CAPSTONE launched June 28 atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster, then spent a week in Earth orbit, spiraling further and further from our planet via Photon Engine burns.)
The CAPSTONE team announced yesterday morning (July 6) that they have contact restored with the probe the size of a microwave oven. And the mission engineers have already figured out what caused the stall.
On Monday, while investigating inconsistent CAPSTONE telemetry data noticed by NASA technicians Deep Space Network“the spacecraft operations team attempted to access diagnostic data on the spacecraft radio and sent a malformatted command that rendered the radio unusable,” NASA officials wrote. in another update today (opens in a new tab).
“The spacecraft’s fault detection system should have restarted the radio immediately but did not due to an error in the spacecraft’s flight software,” they added. “CAPSTONE’s autonomous flight software system eventually resolved the issue and brought the spacecraft back into communication with the ground, allowing the team to implement recovery procedures and resume command of the spacecraft.”
CAPSTONE is now fully operational, if today’s burn is any indication. And the probe will soon have the opportunity to strut again: the mission team plans to conduct another course-correction burn on Saturday, July 9.
There will be a series of more burns after this, allowing CAPSTONE to refine its run to the moon. If all goes as planned, the cubesat will glide into a highly elliptical near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around Earth’s nearest neighbor in about four months.
The lunar NRHO is considered very stable, which is why NASA chose it for its Gateway space station, an important part of the agency’s program. Artemis program lunar exploration. But no spacecraft has ever occupied a lunar NRHO before. CAPSTONE will spend at least six months in orbit, helping engineers and mission planners verify its claimed stability.
CAPSTONE also offers two technology demonstrations that could help future spacecraft navigate near the Moon without as much tracking from Earth as is currently required, NASA officials said.
CAPSTONE (short for “Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment”) is a NASA project, but Colorado-based company Advanced Space is operating the mission under a $20 million contract that the space agency awarded in 2019.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).