False alarm for the CAPSTONE probe, after 24 hours of no communications with Earth

CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment), NASA’s cubesat-format mini-probe, is “happy and healthy” according to the press release from Advanced Space, the Colorado firm that manufactured CAPSTONE on behalf of the American space agency. This “phew” of relief is released after 24 hours of serious concern: indeed, just a few hours after the deployment of the probe’s solar panels, communications were suddenly interrupted between CASPTONE and the ground teams located at the Deep Space Network (DSN) in Madrid (Spain). The DSN is a base of massive radio antennas operated by NASA to support missions targeting deep space.

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The communications shutdown occurred when CAPSTONE made partial contact with an antenna located in California. And for the record, it was amateur satellite observers who were the first to notice CAPSTONE’s lack of downlink. As a reminder, CASPTONE should make it possible to assess the relevance of a new lunar orbit (NRHO orbit, for near-rectilinear halo orbit), an orbit which should pave the way for future NASA Artemis missions (return of astronauts to the Moon).

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