On Monday, July 4, the NASA lost contact with the cubesat CAPSTONE some time after the latter separated from the rocket stage Photon from Rocket Lab. However, this separation took place as planned, and the small 25 kg satellite is normally following the programmed trajectory.
In a NASA statement released on July 5, space agency spokeswoman Sarah Frazier said the team that is in charge of the spacecraft is currently working to try to understand the cause of the problem and restore contact. We can also read in the press release that the team recorded data corresponding to a good trajectory. These data were obtained from the network Deep Space Network.
Frazier said in the statement that if needed, the probe has enough fuel to be able to postpone for several days the initial post-trajectory separation correction maneuver.
The steps already taken by CAPSTONE
CAPSTONE stands for “Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment”. The probe, which is intended to test a new orbit around the Moon, was launched by the rocket Electron from Rocket Lab on June 28. The probe was then placed in orbit around the Earth but must move further and further away thanks to thrusts produced by the Photon stage.
On July 4, the mission reached two important milestones. The Photon ignited its engines for the last time to accelerate the probe out of Earth orbit. A little later, the cubesat separated from the Photon to fly freely.
The desired goal
If all goes well, CAPSTONE should follow a long road that will lead him to the Moon. the November 13 next, the probe is planned enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. The main objective of the mission is to test the stability of this orbit which is highly elliptical. If it is stable, this will be the orbit used by the future lunar station Gateway from NASA.
Apart from testing the orbit, CAPSTONE will also have secondary objectives which will be test navigation and communication in lunar orbit. The probe will work together with the orbiter Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the US space agency.
So, let’s wait to see if the CAPSTONE team will succeed in re-establishing communication with the probe. This is a necessity if the mission is to go as planned.