NASA’s CAPSTONE is now heading to the moon

Concept image of CAPSTONE in lunar orbit.

Concept image of CAPSTONE in lunar orbit.
picture: NASA

The newly launched CAPSTONE mission has reached a major milestone as the tiny probe, moving at more than 24,000 miles per hour, has escaped low-Earth orbit and embarked on a four-month journey to the moon.

CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, bid farewell to low-Earth orbit this morning. according to to NASA. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cubesat is now on its way to the moon, where it will enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) on November 13.

This is the same orbit as the upcoming Lunar Gateway program; the new mission means Evaluate Applicability of NRHO on a smaller scale.Once built, and as part of NASA Artemis Projectthe Lunar Gateway will be used to support a long-term and sustainable human presence on and around the Moon.

vertex roll out Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand on June 28. The CubeSats have been orbiting Earth while connected to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage. A total of seven maneuvers were performed over a six-day period, during which the CAPSTONE’s orbit was steadily raised. CAPSTONE eventually reached a maximum distance of 810,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Earth, more than three times the distance between Earth and the Moon. Once the pair reached 24,500 miles per hour (39,500 km/h) — the speed CAPSTONE needs to escape Earth’s orbit, Photon released its payload.

NASA’s CAPSTONE: A New Path to the Moon

CAPSTONE is now on a ballistic lunar transfer orbit to the moon, a tortuous but efficient orbit where the probe will follow a “deep space dynamic gravitational profile,” as NASA explain:

CAPSTONE consumes very little energy and will cruise along these contours, interrupted by a series of planned trajectory correction operations. At critical moments, the CAPSTONE team at the Advanced Space Mission Operations Center will direct the spacecraft to fire thrusters to adjust course. The Terran Orbital Corporation in Irvine, California, designed and built the CAPSTONE and developed new technology to enable the spacecraft to perform maneuvers while maintaining control of the spacecraft through thrusters alone.

When CAPSTONE catches up to the moon, its approach will align perfectly with the NRHO insert, the key to its course.While driving at 3,800 miles per hour [6,116 km/hr]it will execute its fine, precisely timed propulsion maneuvers into orbit, like a trapeze jumping from arc to arc in decisive acrobatic maneuvers.

NRHO represents the ideal gravitational sweet spot for the lunar portal. Here, gravitational forces from Earth and the moon interact to achieve a near-stable orbit, “allowing physics to do most of the work keeping it in lunar orbit,” according to to NASA. CAPSTONE will stay at NRHO for six months, during which time it will travel as short as 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) from the lunar north pole and as far as 47,000 miles (76,000 kilometers) from the south pole.

Additionally, CAPSTONE will test a navigation system in which the probe will measure its position relative to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter without the need for a ground station on Earth.

more: Astronauts could suffer a decade of bone loss after months in space.

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