NASA schedules the launch of a CubeSat for its Lunar-orbiting space station

NASA’s Artemis program continues to develop space technologies to help humanity’s return trip to the Moon. The Artemis Moon Lander project, in partnership with private space companies, developed lunar lander modules in readiness for NASA’s back-to-the-moon mission scheduled for 2024. In line with the space agency’s strategies for its Artemis program, NASA awarded contracts to corporates developing space technologies. 

NASA plans to establish a moon-orbiting outpost known as the Gateway as part of the space activities conducted by the agency’s Artemis program that aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2024. Recently, NASA unveiled its latest state-of-the-art technology for the outpost, a high-tech pioneer ready for departure to the Gateway by early 2021. The space agency’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is designed as the first-ever spacecraft in the Moon’s Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). The Gateway miniature space station’s assembly and operation are in a unique orbital path called the NRHO.

The CAPSTONE is a CubeSat the size of a microwave oven and weighs approximately 25 kilograms. Despite its size and weight, the CAPSTONE will play a significant role in the Gateway space station. The CubeSat is the first-of-its-kind developed to orbit the Earth-Moon space to settle into a lunar NRHO. During the CubeSat’s primary mission for six months, the CAPSTONE will illustrate the procedure for entering and working in the NRHO, alongside performing a test on its brand-new navigation system capability. Studies on the orbit carried out by modellers in ground-based stations indicate no successful spacecraft mission ever maneuvered its way to the NRHO. The CAPSTONE gauges the requirement for getting into the NRHO while maintaining its orbit as it broadcasts from that location.

The CAPSTONE’s seven-day orbit brings it approximately 1,600 kilometres from one Moon pole during the CubeSat’s nearest pass. However, the same orbital flight takes it as far as 70,000 kilometres from the next lunar pole during its furthest point. The CAPSTONE utilizes an integrated communication system that identifies the CubeSat’s location from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The CAPSTONE will use a self-propulsion system to travel in the Earth-Moon space for three months. After the space trip, the CubeSat will enter the Moon’s Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit. The technological efforts to develop the CAPSTONE involve private partners that manage the processes, assemble the space equipment, conduct performance tests, and spaceflight test for the mission’s spacecraft.

In conclusion, Advanced Space of Boulder is responsible for the development and operation of the CAPSTONE. Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems of Irvine plans to build the platform for the CubeSat. Stellar Exploration, Incorporation of San Luis Obispo, provides the spacecraft’s self-propulsion system that allows the CubeSat to reach Moon upon separation.