NASA mission controllers have contact restored with the CAPSTONE spacecraft after a day of eerie radio silence.
Advanced Space, the company that designed and built the microwave-sized lunar orbiter, stated on Twitter that CAPSTONE looked “happy and healthy.” However, at the time of publishing this story, no further details about the condition of the ship or the cause of the incident had been revealed.
CAPSTONE was launched on June 28 with a Rocket Lab company’s Electron microlauncher. The small satellite is intended to test a halo orbit around the Moon like the one NASA’s Gateway space station will use in the future. It is the first spacecraft sent to the Moon by the US space agency since the 2013 LADEE mission, and in a way also the foundation stone of what the Artemis missions will be.
That is why NASA had to hold its breath after the deployment of the mission on July 4. CAPSTONE had stopped answering his calls.
The spacecraft completed a crucial maneuver after Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon rocket stage inserted it into a lunar transfer trajectory at 39,400 km/h. CAPSTONE successfully deployed its solar panels, stabilized itself in a correct position and started charging its batteries.
The spacecraft’s propulsion system was turned on in anticipation of the first trajectory correction maneuver, initially scheduled for July 5, and its antennas made initial contact with the Deep Space Network ground station. (DSN) in Madridfollowed by partial contact with the Goldstone Observatory ground station in California.
According to AdvancedSpace, CAPSTONE was operating normally for 11 hours after deployment, but then stopped communicating with the DSN, prompting controllers to delay the trajectory correction maneuver and try to re-establish contact with the spacecraft. NASA clarified that the satellite has enough fuel on board to delay the correction maneuver “several days” if necessary.
Now that CAPSTONE is answering our calls again, apparently in good order, NASA should be able to perform trajectory correction en route to lunar orbit. We will be attentive to the news.