Tucson, Arizona 2022-06-24 08:12:00 –
First Edition: June 24, 22 06:15 ET
Updated: June 24, 07:22 ET
Ashley Strickland, CNN
(CNN)-A small spacecraft that has a major impact on lunar exploration is ready to be launched.
A small satellite called CubeSatIs about the size of a microwave oven and weighs only 55 pounds (25 kilograms), but this is the first time we have tested a unique oval lunar orbit. CubeSat acts as a gateway pathfinder, an orbiting lunar outpost that acts as a way station between Earth and the Moon for astronauts.
The orbit, called the nearly linear halo orbit, is very elongated and requires little energy to maintain, providing stability for long-term missions. This is exactly what the gateway needs. The orbit exists at a point where the gravity of the moon and the earth are balanced.
Called the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, this mission, known as CAPSTONE, will take off from Lunchpad on Monday, June 27, at 5:50 am EST. The CubeSat will be launched from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.
When CAPSTONE is launched, it will reach the orbital point within 3 months and spend the next 6 months in orbit. Spacecraft can provide more data on gateway power and propulsion requirements.
The CubeSat’s orbit travels the spacecraft within 1,000 miles (1,609.3 km) from one lunar pole and within 43,500 miles (70,006.5 km) every seven days from the other pole on the closest path. Using this orbit makes the spacecraft more energy efficient when flying to and from the gateway because it requires less propulsion than more circular orbits.
Miniature spacecraft are also used to test the ability to communicate with Earth from this orbit. This has the advantage of being able to see the Earth clearly and can also cover the Moon’s South Pole. This is where the first Artemis astronaut is expected to land in 2025. ..
NASA’s Lunar Reconness orbit, which has been orbiting the moon for 13 years, provides a reference point for CAPSTONE. The two spacecraft communicate directly with each other, allowing teams on the ground to measure the distance between each and their home at the exact location of CAPSTONE.
The collaboration between the two spacecraft allows you to test CAPSTON’s autonomous navigation software called CAPSONE, or the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System. If this software works as expected, it may be used on future spacecraft without relying on tracking from Earth.
“The CAPSTONE mission is a valuable precursor not only to gateways, but also to Orion spacecraft and human landing systems,” said Nujoud Merancy, head of NASA’s Exploration Mission Planning Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. .. “Gateway and Orion use data from CAPSTONE to validate the model, which is important for future mission operations and planning.”
Small satellites for large missions
Christopher Baker, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Bureau Small Spacecraft Technology Program Executive, said the CAPSTONE mission is a fast, low-cost demonstration aimed at helping lay the foundation for future small spacecraft. ..
Small missions that can be launched quickly in bulk at low cost mean that you can seize opportunities that are not possible with larger and more expensive missions.
“Flight tests often learn more from failures than successes. Knowing that they can fail, you can afford to take more risks, but accept them in turn. You can move to advanced features. ” “In this case, failure is optional.”
Lessons from the small CubeSat mission can inform big missions in the future-and CubeSats has already embarked on more challenging destinations than low earth orbit.
It wasn’t alone when NASA’s InSight lander was on a nearly seven-month trip to Mars in 2018. Two suitcase-sized spacecraft called MarCO, Followed InSight on that trip. They were the first cubic satellites to fly into deep space.
During InSight’s approach, descent, and landing, the MarCO satellite sent and received communications from the lander to inform NASA that InSight was safely on the surface of the red planet. These were called EVE and WALL-E after the robots in the 2008 Pixar movie.
The fact that small satellites have reached Mars and are flying behind InSight in space has excited engineers. After InSight landed, CubeSats continued to fly over Mars, but was silent by the end of the year. But MarCO was a great test of how CubeSats tags larger missions.
These small but powerful spacecraft intentionally collide with Moonlet Dimorphos as the DART mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, orbits the near-Earth asteroid Didymos and changes the movement of the asteroid in space. Will play a supporting role again in September. ..
Collisions are recorded by LICIACube, or a light Italian Cubesat for asteroid imaging, Companion Cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency. The briefcase-sized CubeSat is moving on the DART launched in November 2021 and unfolds from the DART before the collision, so you can record what happened. Three minutes after the collision, CubeSat flies by Dimorphos to capture images and videos. The shocking video will be streamed to Earth.
The The Artemis 1 mission will be equipped with three serial box-sized CubeSats. Pulling a vehicle into deep space. Separately, a small satellite measures hydrogen at the South Pole of the Moon, maps lunar water deposits, conducts a lunar fly-by, and studies particles and magnetic fields flowing from the Sun.
More affordable missions
CAPSTONE’s mission relies on NASA’s partnerships with private companies such as Rocket Lab, Stella Exploration, Terran Orbital Corporation, and Advanced Space. The Moon’s mission was built for less than $ 30 million in less than three years using a fixed-price SME innovation research contract.
Large missions can cost billions of dollars. According to a NASA audit, the Perseverance Rover currently exploring Mars costs more than $ 2 billion, and the estimated cost of the Artemis 1 mission is $ 4.1 billion.
These types of contracts can expand opportunities for smaller, more affordable missions to the Moon and other destinations, while creating a framework for commercial support for future lunar operations, Baker said. Stated.
Baker’s hope is that small spacecraft missions can speed up space exploration and scientific discovery-and CAPSTONE and other CubeSats are just the beginning.
Correction: Earlier versions of this story did not have the correct release date.
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