NASA is re-establishing contact with a satellite that has become detached from Earth orbit

Engineers were able to contact the tiny CubeSat on Wednesday after it stopped communicating with the Deep Space Network on Tuesday. The DSN is NASA’s radio antenna network that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions as well as some Earth orbiting missions.
CubeSat is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, also known as CAPSTONE. The satellite left Earth orbit on Monday, marking a major milestone on its planned four-month journey to the moon.
The connectivity difficulties forced the mission team to delay the first maneuver to correct the satellite’s trajectory, originally scheduled for July 5, NASA said. This is a series of planned corrections to increase the accuracy of the orbital transmission to the moon.

After CAPSTONE successfully de-orbited, it began using solar panels to charge its onboard battery, according to an update from NASA.

The CubeSat is awaiting trajectory correction and remains on the overall intended course for its lunar ballistic transfer, NASA said.

Leaving Earth Orbit

The satellite will rely on its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity for the remainder of its journey. Gravity will allow the CubeSat to use significantly less fuel to reach its destination.

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The mission launched on June 28 aboard Rocket Lab’s electron rocket from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The goal of the CubeSats is to enter an elongated orbit, which is a near-straight line halo orbit, around the moon for at least six months for research purposes.

The satellite’s orbit brings the spacecraft within 1,609.3 kilometers (1,000 miles) of a lunar pole and within 43,500 miles (70,006.5 kilometers) of the nearest pole every seven days.

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The mission team hopes the satellite can maintain its orbit, which could allow the agency to launch and place a lunar outpost called Gateway. The Outpost would play a critical role in NASA’s Artemis program by providing future spacecraft with an efficient route to and from the lunar surface.

In addition, the small satellite is also testing its communication capabilities. The orbit provides a view of Earth while covering the moon’s south pole, which will be the planned landing point for the Artemis astronauts in 2025.

The CubeSat will also communicate with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft that has been orbiting the moon for 13 years. It will serve as a reference point for the satellite, allowing scientists to measure the distance between CubeSat and LRO, as well as CAPSTONE’s position in the sky.

Space enthusiasts can follow the satellite’s journey with NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System.