NASA’s CAPSTONE Updates Maneuver Schedule on Journey to Moon

The team for NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is standing down from the trajectory correction maneuver scheduled for July 9 to perform additional analysis on the spacecraft’s performance. The mission team will make a determination whether the maneuver is still needed at this time, and updates will be provided.  

Trajectory correction maneuvers are thruster burns used to clean up expected variation in CAPSTONE’s orbit and more accurately target its path to the Moon. The maneuver scheduled for July 9 was to be part of CAPSTONE’s first series of trajectory corrections. CAPSTONE’s first trajectory correction maneuver on July 7 achieved about 90% of the objectives for this series of maneuvers.  

CAPSTONE remains healthy and on track to arrive to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13. Read more from Advanced Space, which owns and operates CAPSTONE on behalf of NASA. 

NASA’s CAPSTONE Pulls Off First Targeting Maneuver on Journey to the Moon

NASA’s CAPSTONE successfully completed its first trajectory correction maneuver, which started at 11:30 a.m. EDT Thursday. This is the first in a series of thruster burns over the next few months to more accurately target CAPSTONE’s transfer orbit to the Moon. The maneuver lasted just over 11 minutes and changed the spacecraft’s velocity by about 45 miles per hour (about 20 meters per second). CAPSTONE’s next trajectory correction maneuver is targeted for Saturday, July 9.  

CAPSTONE is now about 289,000 miles from Earth, beyond the orbit of the Moon. CAPSTONE will loop back around and arrive to its lunar orbit – called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO – Nov. 13. CAPSTONE will fly in the NRHO for at least six months to study the dynamics of the orbit, which is the same one intended for Gateway, a lunar space station for science and human exploration under Artemis.  

Two technology demonstrations on CAPSTONE could allow future spacecraft to navigate near the Moon without as much tracking required from Earth. 

Read more from Advanced Space, which owns and operates CAPSTONE on behalf of NASA.  

Mission Team Determines Cause of Communications Issues for NASA’s CAPSTONE

After a thorough review, teams have determined what led to CAPSTONE’s communications issue that began on July 4.  

During commissioning of NASA’s CAPSTONE (short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) spacecraft, the Deep Space Network team noted inconsistent ranging data. While investigating this, the spacecraft operations team attempted to access diagnostic data on the spacecraft’s radio and sent an improperly formatted command that made the radio inoperable. The spacecraft fault detection system should have immediately rebooted the radio but did not because of a fault in the spacecraft flight software. 

CAPSTONE’s autonomous flight software system eventually cleared the fault and brought the spacecraft back into communication with the ground, allowing the team to implement recovery procedures and begin commanding the spacecraft again.  

While CAPSTONE was out of contact with Earth, the spacecraft autonomously maintained its orientation to keep its antenna pointed towards Earth and allow the solar panels to keep its battery charged. CAPSTONE also used its thrusters to perform a standard maneuver to dump excess momentum from its reaction wheels, which are internal wheels that help the spacecraft rotate and point itself.  

The mission operations team conducted CAPSTONE’s first trajectory correction maneuver at approximately 11:30 a.m. EDT today. Teams are currently reviewing the data to ensure the maneuver was successful, and an update will be provided later. This maneuver will more precisely target the spacecraft’s transfer orbit to the Moon. 

Following Communications Recovery, NASA’s CAPSTONE Prepares for First Maneuver

Following communications issues, mission teams for NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) have re-established contact with the spacecraft through NASA’s Deep Space Network. Data received from CAPSTONE shows that the spacecraft is in good health and operated safely on its own while it was out of contact with Earth. Teams are preparing to carry out CAPSTONE’s first trajectory correction maneuver – which will more precisely target CAPSTONE’s transfer orbit to the Moon – as early as 11:30 a.m. EDT on July 7. As originally planned, CAPSTONE will arrive to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13.  

The CAPSTONE team is still actively working to fully establish the root cause of the issue. Ground-based testing suggests the issue was triggered during commissioning activities of the communications system. The team will continue to evaluate the data leading up to the communications issue and monitor CAPSTONE’s status. 

A data visualization shows the antenna of the Deep Space Network. CAPSTONE is communicating with one of the Goldstone antenna.
CAPSTONE communicates with Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network.

The mission team, led by Advanced Space, initially re-established contact with CAPSTONE at 9:26 a.m. EDT on July 6. The signal confirmed that CAPSTONE was in the expected location, as predicted based on data from CAPSTONE’s initial contacts on July 4. The team started recovery procedures and began receiving telemetry data from the spacecraft at 10:18 a.m. EDT.  

 

Further Details on Communications Issues with NASA’s CAPSTONE

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) experienced communications issues following its deployment on July 4. This is an update on the spacecraft health and efforts to regain contact between CAPSTONE and NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN).  

Following CAPSTONE’s initial deployment on July 4, the spacecraft successfully deployed solar arrays, was stabilized, and began charging its onboard battery. CAPSTONE’s propulsion system was also readied for the spacecraft’s first maneuver.  CAPSTONE made initial contact with the DSN ground station in Madrid, Spain, followed by a partial contact with the Goldstone ground station in California. From these contacts, mission operators have been able to determine CAPSTONE’s approximate position and velocity in space.  

As a result of the communications issues, CAPSTONE’s first trajectory correction maneuver – originally scheduled for the morning of July 5 – has been delayed. This maneuver is the first in a series that are designed to make small corrections to increase the accuracy of the transfer orbit to the Moon, and the spacecraft remains on the overall intended ballistic lunar transfer while awaiting this trajectory correction.  

Teams are working to resolve CAPSTONE’s communications issues.  

Read more from CAPSTONE operator Advanced Space.

See the initial update on CAPSTONE’s communications issues.

CAPSTONE Update on Communications Issue

Following successful deployment and start of spacecraft commissioning on July 4, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network. The spacecraft team currently is working to understand the cause and re-establish contact. The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network. If needed, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post separation trajectory correction maneuver for several days. Additional updates will be provided as soon as possible.

CAPSTONE Leaves Earth Orbit, Headed to the Moon

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) has left low-Earth orbit and started its solo journey to the Moon.

Following its launch on June 28, CAPSTONE orbited Earth attached to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage, which maneuvered CAPSTONE into position for its journey to the Moon. Over the past six days, Photon’s engines fired seven times at key moments to raise the orbit’s highest point to around 810,000 miles from Earth before releasing the CAPSTONE CubeSat on its ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon. The spacecraft is now being flown by the teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital.

A screenshot of a web interface showing the spacecraft currently in contact with NASA's Deep Space Network. Two antenna in Madrid are communicating with CAPSTONE.
CAPSTONE communicates with Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network en route to the Moon.

Now, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE inserting into its near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon on Nov. 13. The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to its target orbit around the Moon.

In the coming days, you can follow CAPSTONE’s journey live using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization, riding along virtually with the CubeSat with a simulated view of our solar system.

CAPSTONE en Route to the Moon After Successful Launch

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission is in space on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. CAPSTONE launched at 5:55 EDT (09:55 UTC) on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand, Tuesday, June 28.  

Over the next six days, the engine of the Lunar Photon – the spacecraft carrying CAPSTONE as a payload – will periodically ignite to accelerate beyond low-Earth orbit and release CAPSTONE on the next phase of its journey to the Moon.  

Read more about the launch and what comes next, here: CAPSTONE Launches to Test New Orbit for NASA’s Artemis Moon Missions.