CAPSTONE suffers from a communication problem – SpaceNews

Updated at 8:30 p.m. EST with statement from Advanced Space.

WASHINGTON — A NASA cubesat lunar mission lost contact with Earth a day after deployment, jeopardizing its plans to demonstrate the orbit that will be used for subsequent Artemis missions.

In a July 5 statement, NASA said the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) cubes had “encountered communication issues” during its second pass with the Deep Space Network (DSN) after deployment. July 4 from Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon kick. arrange. Amateur satellite observers had noticed a lack of transmissions from the spacecraft, suggesting that something had gone wrong.

“The spacecraft team is currently working to understand the cause and re-establish contact,” NASA said in its statement, noting that controllers had good data on the spacecraft’s trajectory since the first DSN pass. and the second DSN pass, but partial. “If necessary, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post-separation course correction maneuver for several days.”

Although CAPSTONE is a NASA-funded mission, it is operated by Advanced Space, a Colorado-based startup. “During commissioning activities, an anomaly related to the communication subsystem was noted; the operations team is actively working on this issue with the Deep Space Network and determining the best next steps,” the company said in a statement in late July 5.

Advanced Space said that before the communication problem, the spacecraft had deployed its solar panels and was charging its batteries. It also activated its propulsion system for a course correction maneuver.

CAPSTONE follows a low-energy trajectory that will take it more than 1.2 million kilometers from Earth, eventually entering a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon in November. This trajectory was designed to minimize the propellant needed for the small spacecraft, weighing just 25 kilograms, to launch into orbit.

The original mission plan called for its first course correction maneuver on July 5, but that is on hold. “The mission handoff approach and system margins allow time to resolve and understand this anomaly before proceeding with the first course correction maneuver,” the company said.

NASA funded CAPSTONE to collect data on the stability of this halo orbit, which will be used by later Artemis missions and the Lunar Gateway. However, agency officials have previously said that while CAPSTONE data will be useful in refining plans for these Artemis missions, it is not essential.

Lunar Photon Extended Mission

While CAPSTONE engineers work to re-establish contact with this cubesat, Rocket Lab says its Lunar Photon vehicle is still operational after propelling CAPSTONE onto its lunar path and releasing it.

Lunar Photon is “well and healthy,” Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said on a July 5 call with reporters. “We are currently working on a side mission for this spacecraft. It seemed too great an asset to have in deep space not to take advantage of it and do cool things.

He said it was too early to discuss what this extended mission might include, but noted that the spacecraft had additional thruster, as well as sufficient power. “It’s really about communication,” he said, because Rocket Lab uses commercial ground stations rather than DSN to communicate with Lunar Photon.

Beck noted that Lunar Photon could, for example, enter the same halo orbit that CAPSTONE plans to use. “A piece of cake,” he said when asked about this storyline. “We have a lot of propellant for that, so if needed we could do it, no problem.”

Rocket Lab plans to use the same Photon spacecraft for a privately funded Venus mission, replacing the CAPSTONE cubesat with an atmospheric entry probe. “There is no difference between the spacecraft and the one that will take us to Venus,” he said. “We’re learning a lot and it’s a wonderful test drive for the Venus mission.”

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