NASA’s small CAPSTONE spacecraft has encountered a problem on its way to the moon and is currently out of control.
And the US space agency’s $30 million probe, which is about the size of a microwave oven and weighs just 55 pounds, was It has temperature problems and has had problems generating power from solar panels.
Towards the end of a large engine burnout last Thursday (September 9), mission team members said CAPSTONE experienced an anomaly that put the probe into protective “safe mode”.
In an update released this week, Advanced Space — the company running the project for NASA — described it as a “dynamic operational case.”
This isn’t the first time CAPSTONE has run into an obstacle. In July, the craft fell silent shortly after it broke free from Earth orbit. However, the connection was later restored.
The spacecraft was launched in June with the goal of orbiting the moon to prepare for a new lunar space station.
It will test the stability of a halo-shaped orbit before it is used by the Lunar Gateway, the planned lunar outpost by NASA.
NASA’s small CAPSTONE spacecraft (pictured, artist impression) ran into trouble on its way to the Moon and is currently deteriorating out of control.
Capsule: key facts
size: 13 x 13 x 25 inches
Weight: 55 pounds
orbiting: near a straight linear halo orbit (NRHO)
launch site: Mahia, New Zealand
lunch date: From 13 to 22 June 2022
The Moon Gate will one day serve as a “staging area” for landing humans on the Moon and possibly as a starting point for missions to Mars.
Ground teams are now trying to stabilize the movement of the small exploration satellite and save the mission.
CAPSTONE reached more than 950,000 miles (1.53 million km) from Earth on August 26, before gravity began pulling the probe into a trajectory to cross paths with the Moon before its planned orbit burn up on November 13.
Halfway through its transit to Earth’s only natural satellite, the probe launched its miniature hydrazine thruster for its third trajectory correction maneuver, but NASA said the spacecraft experienced a problem during or shortly after the burn.
This caused it to stumble, as CAPSTONE’s reaction wheels – designed to control its direction – were unable to stand up to the movement.
Ground stations were then unable to receive meaningful communications from the spacecraft, prompting Advanced Space to declare an operational emergency.
When it finally reconnected about 24 hours later, “mission controllers found that the spacecraft was faltering, on-board computer systems were periodically resetting, and the spacecraft was using more power than it was generating from its solar panels,” NASA said.
The controllers were finally able to install CAPSTONE with the help of NASA’s Deep Space Network, a group of giant radio antennas used to support interplanetary spacecraft missions.
“The rapid response enabled by Deep Space network support and quick thinking by the team at Terran Orbital allowed mission operators to quickly reconfigure the spacecraft’s operational state to stabilize the situation while recovery plans can be further evaluated,” Advanced Space said in an update.
A team of experts is now available Evaluate the next steps.
But without the Deep Space Network, they “will have little or no information about the state of the spacecraft,” according to Advanced Space.
The silver lining, NASA added, is that the probe remained on its way to the moon.
She said in a statement:CAPSTONE remains in safe mode and is now energy positive, meaning it generates more power from the solar panels than the system uses.
CAPSTONE Over the Moon’s North Pole: After reaching the Moon, the craft will begin a six-month mission to verify a special type of orbit.
Navigation data collected after the problem began indicates that the 8 September course correction maneuver was completed or nearly completed when the problem occurred.
“This means that the spacecraft is still on the intended path and on course to a near-linear halo orbit at the Moon.”
The US space agency added: “While work continues to diagnose the cause of the problem, the CAPSTONE team is preparing to attempt a deceptive operation to regain control of the situation with the spacecraft.”
CAPSTONE is an acronym for “Cislunar Satellite Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experience”.
It is unique in that it will travel in an elongated, halo-shaped orbit, which would bring it close to 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.
While the spacecraft typically takes a few days to reach the moon, CAPSTONE takes much longer because it travels at a slower speed and has to take a longer path to equip itself in an unusually elliptical orbit.
The oddly shaped orbital, officially called a near-linear halo orbit (NRHO), has never been experienced in space before.
Moon Gate, pictured here above the moon in an artist’s impression, is described as a ‘vital component’ of NASA’s Artemis program
The orbital path is located at a precise equilibrium point in the gravity of the Earth and the Moon, which means less energy is expended.
CAPSTONE is set to orbit the moon for at least six months to understand its “orbit characteristics,” according to NASA.
The space agency said: ‘It will verify the energy and thrust requirements to maintain orbit as predicted by NASA models, reducing logistical uncertainty.
It will also demonstrate the reliability of innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation solutions as well as ground communication capabilities.
The first parts of the Lunar Gateway aren’t set until November 2024 at the earliest, giving NASA plenty of time to evaluate results from CAPSTONE provided the mission is successful.
Described as “a vital component of NASA’s Artemis program, Lunar Gateway will be a small space station orbiting the moon, serving as a ‘multipurpose outpost’.”
NASA’s Lunar Portal: A Vital Part of the ARTEMIS Program
NASA is working on a project to build the first lunar space station, codenamed Moon Gate, like Part of a long-term project to send humans to Mars.
NASA said the crew-sponsored spaceport will orbit the moon and serve as a “gateway to deep space and the lunar surface.”
The first units of the station could be completed as soon as 2024.
An international base for lunar exploration for humans and robots and a stopover for spacecraft is the main contender for the succession to the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS), the world’s largest space project to date.
Pictured: a schematic diagram of the proposed Lunar Gateway space station
NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions aim to send the first manned mission to the Moon since 1972 “not before 2025”.
This was originally by 2024, but costs and litigation from Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin forced NASA to delay this by a year.
Ultimately, NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes that this colony will reveal new scientific discoveries, showcase new technological advances, and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.