NASA’s CAPSTONE is now heading for the Moon

NASA’s CAPSTONE is now heading for the Moon

Conceptual image of CAPSTONE orbiting the Moon.

Conceptual image of CAPSTONE orbiting the Moon.
Image: Nasa

A milestone has been reached in the newly launched CAPSTONE mission, as the tiny probe, traveling at over 24,000 miles per hour, escaped from low Earth orbit and began its four-month journey towards the Moon.

CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, bid farewell to low Earth orbit earlier this morning, according at NASA. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cubesat is now heading for the Moon, where it will enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) on November 13.

This is the same orbit planned for the next lunar gateway; the new mission for assess the relevance of NRHO on a smaller scale. Once built, and as part of NASA Artemis programLunar Gateway will be used to support a sustainable, long-term human presence on and around the Moon.

CAPSTONE spear of New Zealand atop a Rocket Lab Electron rocket on June 28. The cubesat was orbiting Earth while attached to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage. A total of seven maneuvers were performed over the course of six days, during which CAPSTONE’s orbit was steadily raised. CAPSTONE eventually reached a maximum distance of 810,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Earth, more than three times the Earth-Moon distance. Photon released its payload once the pair reached 24,500 miles per hour (39,500 km/h) – the speed required for CAPSTONE to escape Earth orbit.

NASA CAPSTONE: Flying a New Path to the Moon

CAPSTONE is now on a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon, a convoluted – but efficient – ​​trajectory in which the probe will follow “dynamic gravitational contours in deep space”, as NASA Explain:

Expending little energy, CAPSTONE will navigate along these rhythmic contours through a series of planned course correction maneuvers. At critical moments, the CAPSTONE team at Advanced Space’s Mission Operations Center will command the spacecraft to fire its thrusters to adjust its trajectory. Terran Orbital Corporation in Irvine, Calif., designed and built CAPSTONE and developed new technology that allows the spacecraft to execute maneuvers while maintaining control of the spacecraft on thrusters only.

When CAPSTONE catches up with the Moon, its approach will be perfectly aligned for the insertion of NRHO, the node of its route. Going 3,800 miles an hour [6,116 km/hr]it will perform its delicate, timed propelling maneuver to enter orbit, like a flying trapeze artist who leaps from arc to arc with decisive, acrobatic movement.

NRHO represents an ideal gravitational sweet spot for Lunar Gateway. Here, the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Moon interact to allow an almost stable orbit, “allowing physics to do most of the work of keeping the Moon orbiting”. according at NASA. CAPSTONE will spend six months at NRHO, during which it will travel within 2,100 miles (3,400 km) of the Moon’s north pole on its near pass and 47,000 miles (76,000 km) from the south pole at its point. farthest.

Additionally, CAPSTONE will test a navigation system in which the probe will measure its position relative to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and without the benefit of ground stations on Earth.

After: Astronauts can experience a decade of bone loss for months in space.

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