On November 13th, CAPSTONE will arrive at the Moon and be the first spacecraft to join a novel, elongated orbit to aid NASA’s Artemis missions.

The first CubeSat to reach and function on the Moon will be the 55-pound, Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE). Gateway is a space station planned by NASA as part of its Artemis program to orbit the Moon, and it will use this mission as a test run. By proving the viability of cutting-edge navigation systems and testing the dynamics of a never-before-flown halo orbit, CAPSTONE’s mission will aid in lowering the bar for future spacecraft like Orion.

This special orbit, formally called a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), is only possible because of the mutual attraction of Earth and the Moon. To maintain a spacecraft’s lunar orbit, physics alone is sufficient. As a result, NRHO spacecraft have a lower fuel requirement compared to others in similar orbits. NASA’s objectives for this unusual orbit are ambitious. Engineers believe it will provide them 15 years of parking room in Moon orbit for larger missions. For such extended journeys, fuel efficiency is of paramount importance.

Ballistic lunar transfer

CAPSTONE has been taking a nontraditional yet effective route to the Moon in deep space for the past four months. To go to their destination with minimal energy expenditure, spacecraft can choose this path, which tracks gravitational patterns in deep space. This extraordinary course was developed by Advanced Space, a Colorado small firm that manages NASA’s CAPSTONE.

Over the course of the previous few months, the CAPSTONE crew has undertaken five separate maneuvers to align the spacecraft’s trajectory for orbit insertion. The spacecraft’s arrival at the Moon was set up with a last maneuver on October 27.