NASA’s return to Moon begins with successful CAPSTONE launch

NASA’s CAPSTONE mission successfully launched on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket at 5.55 a.m. EDT (3.25 p.m. EDT) on June 28. The space agency broadcast the event live and you can watch a taped version at the link below. The spacecraft successfully exceeded its maximum q (when experiencing maximum structural load), launch, cruise separation, battery clearance, and kick stage separation to reach the first orbital stage on its journey to the Moon.

The CAPSTONE mission will carry a flight computer and radio to perform calculations to locate the CubeSat on its orbital path. The CubeSat satellite will use NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as a reference point to understand its position in space. CAPSTONE will communicate directly with the LRO and use the data from this crosslink to measure how far it is from the LRO and how fast the distance is between the two changes. This will tell the CubeSat its position in space relative to the LRO.

During the mission, this information will be used to evaluate CAPS (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System), CAPSTONE’s autonomous navigation software. If successfully tested, the software will allow future spacecraft to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on ground-based tracking.

If this program becomes viable, it could perform future space missions without support from Earth. This will allow terrestrial antennas to prioritize critical scientific data over routine operational tracking.

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