NASA’s CAPSTONE probe is still in danger, despite progress

Artist's depiction of CAPSTONE.

Artist’s depiction of CAPSTONE.
picture: NASA

A series of technical problems that followed a third successful course-correcting maneuver threaten to sideline NASA’s CAPSTONE mission. Controllers say they’re making progress with the little Cubesat, but they’re not ready to try the recovery process yet.

The 55-pound (25 kg) satellite encountered difficulties either during or after its third course correction maneuver, which it performed successfully on September 8. capstone It is still on its planned path to near-rectar-halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, but an unknown technical glitch has caused the Get into a stumble. probe Launched On June 28, it is nearing the end of its four-month journey to the moon.

The controllers are currently working on a plan to disassemble the cubes so that they can properly orient the solar panels and recharge their batteries. CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous GPS Technology Operations and Navigation Experience, is currently running on low power as a result of this anomaly, but it no longer drains more power than it collects. The probe also deals with some troubling temperature issues. The recovery team, made up of experts from Advanced Space, NASA, Terran Orbital and Stellar Exploration, is currently hampered by communications issues, although NASA’s Deep Space Network has linked Cubes trapped for observers on the ground.

There is some good news to report. A spokesperson for Advanced Space told Gizmodo that the communications problem had improved significantly, and that the CAPSTONE power condition “appears to be sufficient” to enable continuous heating of the propulsion system, “which has fallen below operating temperature.”

CAPSTONE’s energy is currently limited because it cannot properly orient its solar panels relative to the sun. The spokesman said it was encouraging that the spacecraft’s propulsion system was still in a recoverable condition. Once the temperature of CAPSTONE’s propulsion system has been stable at 5°C (41°F) for 12 hours or more, engineers will evaluate the system for pending recovery. “Information about the cause of this anomaly has been obtained and is being evaluated, and recovery plans are being developed that mitigate the risk of further abnormal behavior,” the spokesperson added.

The recovery team has not reached a decision on when it will attempt to dismantle the spacecraft, but the spokesperson said that “the team is working hard to make progress guided by what we are learning from the data with the clear goal of further reducing risks to the mission.” There’s no crazy rush to move into the recovery action, as CAPSTONE’s fourth of seven planned course correction maneuvers won’t happen until mid-October. The third track patch has been done as planned, so CAPSTONE is still on track.

The $30 million CAPSTONE project serves as NASA’s next exploration mission Artemis program. NASA and its international partners have announced plans to build a space station on the moon called Gate, in NHRO, but this gravitationally stable orbital has yet to be tested. This is where CAPSTONE comes in, so fingers crossed so this important task can get back on track.