NASA’s tiny CAPSTONE lunar probe has finally stopped falling into space

NASA’s CAPSTONE probe bound to the moon is under control.

The microwave-sized CAPSTONE, which has been in safe mode for a month since an engine burned out on Sept. 8, has finally stopped tumbling in cislunar space following a command from control. on the ground.

The order executed Friday, Oct. 7, “removed a major hurdle to returning the spacecraft to normal operations,” NASA wrote in a statement. update (opens in a new tab) on his blog Artemis. (CAPSTONE is a pathfinder for the planned orbit of NASA’s Gateway space station, which will support lunar operations under the Artemis program.)

The 55-pound (25-kilogram) spacecraft initially ran into trouble following “a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft’s eight thrusters,” NASA added, noting that one of those thrusters was partially open and causing a spin. The team is now moving further in its recovery plan ahead of the cubesat’s scheduled arrival on the moon on November 13.

Related: Why NASA’s tiny CAPSTONE probe will take so long to reach the moon

After reviewing CAPSTONE telemetry and other sighting information, NASA and the Colorado company Advanced Space (which operates the spacecraft on behalf of the agency) said engineers now have mastered yaw, pitch and roll (the three axes of a craft’s orientation) to control the cubesat’s position in space.

“CAPSTONE has now oriented its solar panels toward the sun and adjusted the pointing of its antennas to provide a better data connection to Earth,” NASA said, which will likely allow for further commands to further stabilize the spacecraft. .

The agency, however, hedged its bets of success, noting that the risks of this procedure alone were “significant” and that further adjustments may be needed to prevent the partially open thruster valve from interfering with position again. of CAPSTONE in space.

Nonetheless, the spacecraft “remains on track” to occupy and characterize a near-rectilinear halo lunar orbit (NRHO), NASA stressed, to test its stability before Gateway arrives in a few years.

Capstone will verify the stability of a lunar orbit as a guide for NASA’s Gateway space station. (Image credit: NASA artwork/Daniel Rutter)

Advanced Space conducted several spacecraft tests and ground simulations before attempting recovery, the company said in its own CAPSTONE. update (opens in a new tab) Friday. The company added that it is committed to assisting the spacecraft for “upcoming critical events” and troubleshooting the valve closure “to further reduce the risk of future propulsion operations.”

“The CAPSTONE mission team is grateful for the public and private support provided to the team during this challenging phase of the mission.” Added advanced space.

CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, launched atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster on June 28 and has already overcome another major glitch.

On July 4, the spacecraft shut down shortly after separating from Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft bus. A badly formatted command caused the problem and the engineers successfully fixed it the next day.

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