The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) stated on Tuesday that it had lost contact with the $32.7 million Capstone spacecraft on its way to the moon to test lunar orbit. However, the engineers at the agency are positive that they will be able to resolve the issue.
The tiny CubeSat lost contact with the Deep Space Network. The Deep Space Network (DSN) is NASA’s radio antenna network that serves interplanetary spacecraft missions and some Earth circling missions.
The CubeSat is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, also known as CAPSTONE.
According to a NASA statement, the CAPSTONE team is attempting to re-establish contact and determine what caused the problem. In addition, they have reliable trajectory data from the spacecraft’s first full and second partial ground station pass of the Deep Space Network.
“If needed, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post separation trajectory correction manoeuvre for several days,” the agency said.
As scheduled, the satellite exited Earth’s orbit on Monday, marking its four-month mission to the moon. It will rely on its propulsion and the sun’s gravity for the rest of its journey.
On June 28, the mission took off on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. At its closest pass, the satellite’s orbit will put it within 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometres) of one lunar pole and within 43,500 miles (70,006.5 kilometres) of the other pole every seven days.
The team expects the satellite to maintain its orbit, allowing NASA to launch and install the Gateway in lunar orbit. However, it would be critical to their Artemis programme since it would provide future spacecraft with an efficient path to and from the moon’s surface.
In addition, the little satellite will put its communication abilities to the test. The orbit provides a view of Earth while covering the lunar south pole, where the Artemis astronauts are expected to land in 2025.
In addition, the CubeSat will communicate with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit, which has been orbiting the moon for 13 years. It will serve as a reference point for the satellite, allowing scientists to calculate the distance between the two space objects and the location of CAPSTONE in the sky.