We Have A Problem: NASA Scrambles To Fix CAPSTONE Probe Before It Reaches The Moon

capstone probe
NASA lost communication with its CAPSTONE CubeSat after successfully launching on June 28, 2022. The microwave oven-sized CubeSat weighing a mere 55 pounds is a pathfinder for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of the Artemis program.

Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, better known simply as CAPSTONE, launched June 28th, and separated successfully from its launch vehicle and began its journey to the Moon. However, during commissioning activities an anomaly occurred that was related to the communication subsystem of the spacecraft on July 4, 2022. Teams are continuing to work in order to resolve the issues, but the spacecraft's first trajectory correction maneuver has been delayed.

lunar probe
Image Credit: NASA

In an update from NASA yesterday, the space agency indicated that the team had good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network. While the first correction maneuver has been delayed, it should have enough fuel for a delay of several days.

The initial trajectory correction maneuver is designed to more accurately target the transfer orbit to the Moon, according to Advanced Space. The spacecraft, however, remains on the overall intended ballistic lunar transfer (BLT), while this maneuver is delayed.

The spacecraft was communicating properly for the first 11 hours. It was able to successfully deploy its solar arrays, achieved three-axis stabilization, and entered a battery charging mode. Before losing the ability to communicate, CAPSTONE was also able to execute its Earth-pointing mode, and then communicated with DSN stations in Madrid Spain. During this time, the team was able to determine the spacecraft's position and velocity, and prepare for the initial correction maneuver.

This is just the beginning of CAPSTONE's four month journey to its target destination. Once there, it will orbit the area around the Moon for six months in order to understand the characteristics of the orbit. In particular, it will validate the power and propulsion requirements for maintaining its orbit, reducing future logistical uncertainties. It will also demonstrate the reliability of innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation solutions, and communication capabilities with Earth.

Gateway is a platform that will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. It is aimed at extending astronauts stay in space and additional time exploring the Moon. Therefore, tests such as these are critical to ensure the safety and success of future missions.

**Update: July 6, 2022 11:57am. NASA has confirmed that communications are back for CAPSTONE. According to a tweet by @NASAAmes, operators have successfully re-established contact with the spacecraft.

Top Image Credit: NASA