The microwave-sized spacecraft will test new orbits between Earth and the Moon

The microwave-sized spacecraft will test new orbits between Earth and the Moon
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Tiny satellites, called a Cubsat, The size and weight of a microwave oven is only 55 pounds (25 kg), but it will be the first to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit. Cubesat will act as a gatefinder to the gateway, an orbiting lunar outpost that will serve as a path station for astronauts between Earth and the Moon.

The orbit, called the nearest rectilinear hello orbit, is very stretched and provides stability for long-term missions when little energy is required for maintenance – which would require a gateway. The orbit exists at a point of equilibrium between the gravity of the moon and the earth.

The mission, known as Cisluna’s Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment and known as Capstone, will depart from the launchpad at 5:50 a.m. Monday, June 27. Cubsat will fly from the company’s launch complex 1 in New Zealand to the rocket lab’s electron rocket.

Once Capstone is launched, it will reach its orbit point within three months and then spend the next six months in orbit. The spacecraft can provide more information about the power and propulsion requirements for the gateway.

Cubesat’s orbit will bring the spacecraft closer to 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) from one lunar pole and 43,500 miles (70,006.5 kilometers) every seven days from another pole. Using this orbit will be more energy efficient for the spacecraft and for flying through the gateway as it requires less maneuvering than a more circular orbit.

The mini-spacecraft will also be used to test its ability to communicate with Earth from orbit, providing a clearer view of the Earth and coverage of the Moon’s South Pole – where the first Artemis astronaut is expected to land in 2025.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit, which has been orbiting the moon for 13 years, will provide a reference point for CAPSTONE. The two spacecraft will communicate directly with each other, allowing ground teams to measure the distance between each one and the house in the exact position of the capstone.

Collaboration between the two spacecraft could test CAPSTONE’s autonomous navigation software, called CAPS, or Cisluna’s autonomous positioning system. If this software works as expected, it can be used by future spacecraft without relying on tracking from Earth.

“The Capstone mission is a valuable pioneer not only for the gateway, but also for the Orion spacecraft and the human landing system,” said Nujaud Merensi, head of NASA’s Exploration Mission Planning Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Gateway and Orion will use data from Capstone to validate our model, which will be important for operations and planning for future missions.”

Small satellites on large missions

Christopher Baker, executive of the small spacecraft technology program at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said the Capstone mission is a quick, low-cost demonstration aimed at helping lay the groundwork for future small spacecraft.

Smaller missions that can be put together and launched quickly at a lower cost mean that they can take on possibilities that larger, more expensive missions cannot.

“So often in a flight test, you learn more from success than from failure. Knowing the potential for failure, we can take more risks, but we can accept that failure. To go to better power,” Baker said. “In this case, failure is an option.”

Lessons from smaller Cubsat missions may inform larger missions down the line – and Cubsats have already embarked on a journey to a more challenging destination than low-Earth orbit.

In 2018, when NASA’s Insight Lander was on a nearly seven-month journey to Mars, it was not alone. Two suitcase-sized spacecraft, named MarCO, Followed insights into its journey. They were the first Cube satellites to fly in deep space.

During Insight’s entry, landing and landing, Marco satellites receive and transmit communications from the lander to inform NASA that Insight is safely on the surface of the Red Planet. The nicknames for the robots in the 2008 Pixar movie were EVE and WALL-E.

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The fact that tiny satellites have landed on Mars, flew behind Insight through space, engineers are excited. After the Insight landing, the cubesat began to fly out of Mars, but became silent by the end of the year. But MarCO was an excellent test of how CubeSats could tag big missions.

These tiny but powerful spacecraft will again play a helpful role in September, when the DART mission, or double asteroid redirection test, will deliberately crash into the moon’s dimmerphos as it orbits the asteroid Didymos near Earth to change the asteroid’s motion in space. .

Will be recorded by collision LICIACube, or light Italian cubesat for asteroid imaging, A companion Cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency. The briefcase-sized cubesat is traveling to DART, launched in November 2021, and will be placed before it takes effect so it can record what happens. Three minutes after the effect, Cubsat will fly with DeMarphos to capture photos and videos. Effect videos will be sent back to Earth.
The The Artemis I mission will also carry three serial box-sized cubes That is hitting a ride in deep space. Separately, tiny satellites will measure hydrogen at the moon’s south pole and map lunar water deposits, operate a lunar plane, and study particles and magnetic fields flowing from the sun.

More affordable mission

The Capstone Mission relies on NASA’s partnerships with commercial companies such as Rocket Lab, Stellar Exploration, Terran Orbital Corporation and Advanced Space. The Lunar Mission was created using a fixed-value small business innovation research contract – under three years and under $ 30 million.

Big missions can cost billions of dollars. According to an audit by NASA’s Inspector General’s Office, Perseverance Rover, currently exploring Mars, will cost $ 2 billion and the Artemis I mission an estimated খরচ 4.1 billion.

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Such agreements could expand the scope of smaller, more affordable missions to the moon and other destinations, and create a framework for commercial support for future lunar activities, Baker said.

Baker hopes small spacecraft missions can speed up space exploration and scientific discovery – and Capstone and other cubesats are just beginning.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect launch date.

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