NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit

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NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit

Post by bystander » Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:14 pm

NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit
NASA | 2019 Sep 13
Highly elliptical, a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon takes advantage of a
precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon and creates a stability
that is ideal for long-term missions like Gateway. Credits: Advanced Space

NASA has awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate a CubeSat mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for ]Gateway – an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is expected to be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, the CubeSat will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.

The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon’s surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations. ...

The 12-unit CubeSat is about the size of a small microwave oven. Onboard is a communications system capable of determining how far CAPSTONE is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two spacecraft is changing. The inter-spacecraft information will be used to demonstrate software for autonomous navigation, allowing future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.

CAPSTONE will provide NASA and its partners with important insights to support exploration of the Moon and Mars, including:
  • Demonstration of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services
  • Verification of near rectilinear halo orbit characteristics for future spacecraft
  • Experience entering this orbit with a highly efficient lunar transfer
  • Experience with rideshare or small dedicated launches to the Moon
  • Commercial experience providing mission planning and operations support services for CubeSats beyond Earth
  • Rapid commercial delivery of a CubeSat mission beyond Earth orbit
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