NASA's CAPSTONE spacecraft continues to cross off milestones on its long voyage to the moon. On Friday afternoon, the 55-pound (25-kilogram) CAPSTONE achieved apogee, its furthest point from Earth (Aug. 26). And was really 951,908 miles (1,531,948 kilometers) distant on that day, according to Advanced Space, the Colorado-based firm that administers the project for NASA.
On June 28, CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) was launched atop a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. The microwave-sized probe is pursuing a roundabout, fuel-efficient path to the moon, where it is slated to arrive on November 13.
On that day, CAPSTONE will enter a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around Earth's nearest neighbor, following the same extremely elliptical course that Gateway, NASA's Artemis moon program's planned space station, will take. Because no spacecraft has previously inhabited a lunar NRHO, CAPSTONE will test its stability and other properties prior to Gateway's construction there. During its six-month stay on the moon, the CubeSat will also undertake navigation and communications tests, some in collaboration with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
According to CAPSTONE crew members, CAPSTONE has already shown to be a robust spacecraft. The CubeSat went black immediately after launching from Rocket Lab's Photon bus on July 4, but mission team members were able to restore contact the next day. An incorrectly formatted instruction produced the momentary dropout.
CAPSTONE isn't the only Artemis activity that space aficionados have been paying attention to recently. NASA planned to launch Artemis 1, the program's first official mission, on Monday morning (Aug. 29), however the launch was canceled owing to a technical fault. Artemis 1 will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit and return using NASA's brand-new Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket. A cooling issue with one of the SLS's four RS-25 engines caused the planned liftoff on Monday to be canceled.
The Artemis 1 team is still looking into the problem and has not yet declared a revised launch date.