What is nasa’s capstone mission?

What is nasa’s capstone mission?
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A bit of a cube, approximately the size of a microwave oven and weighing only 55 pounds (25 kilograms), be the first spacecraft to test a single device, elliptical lunar orbit in the context of operations and navigational experience of the autonomous cislunar positioning system. As a pathfinder for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE will help reduce the risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit.

The orbit, officially called the orbit of an almost straight halo (nrho), is considerably lengthened. Its location at a precise point of equilibrium in the gravitational forces of the Earth and the Moon, provides stability for long-term missions such as the gateway and demands a minimum of energy to maintain. The capstone orbit also establishes a place which is an ideal transit zone for missions on the moon and beyond. The orbit will bring capstone within 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of one lunar pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles (70,000 km) from the other pole at its peak every seven days, requiring less propulsion power for spacecraft flying at the surface of the moon than other circular orbits.

The culmination revealed at the sunrise of the lunar sun: the culmination will fly in the cislunar space – the orbital space close to and around the moon. The mission will demonstrate an innovative solution for navigating between spaceships on the moon from an almost straight halo orbit planned for the Artemis entrance gate. Photo: NASA/Daniel Rutter illustration.

After a three-month journey to its target destination, CAPSTONE will tour the Moon for at least six months to understand the orbit's characteristics. More precisely, it will validate the power and propulsion needs to maintain its orbit as predicted by the nasa models, thereby reducing logistical uncertainties. It will also demonstrate the reliability of innovative navigation solutions between spacecraft as well as the capabilities of communication with the Earth. The NRHO offers the benefit of a clear view of the Earth as well as covering the South Lunar Pole.

To test these new navigational capabilities, CAPSTONE has a second payload flight computer and a radio that will conduct calculations to determine where the CubeSat is in its orbital trajectory. Circling the Moon since 2009, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will serve as a reference point for CAPSTONE. The intention is for capstone to communicate directly with lro and utilize the data obtained from this crosslink to measure how far it is from lro and how fast the distance between the two changes, which in turn dictates the position of the cornerstone in space.

Capstone orbiting near the moon: once released from the rocket science laboratory photon satellite bus, Capstone will use his propulsion system to move for about three months before orbiting the moon. Photo: NASA/Daniel Rutter illustration.

This peer-to-peer information will be used to evaluate the CAPSTONE standalone browser. If successful, this software, called an autonomous cislunar positioning system (caps), will allow future spacecraft to determine their location without relying solely on tracking from the earth. This capability could enable future technology demonstrations to perform on their own without support from the ground and allow ground-based antennas to prioritize valuable science data over more routine operational tracking.

The capstone is expected to be launched at the earliest in May 2022 on the electron rocket from a rocket laboratory from the company's Launch 1 facility in New Zealand. With a very ambitious timetable, Capstone will show key business capabilities. NASA partners will test cutting-edge tools for mission planning and operations, paving the way and expanding opportunities for small and more affordable space and exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and other destinations throughout the solar system.

Capstone on the lunar north pole: after the arrival to the moon, capstone will start his primary mission of 6 months. The mission will validate the characteristics of a near-straight halo orbit by showing how to enter and operate the orbit. Credit: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter

Mission objectives:

  • Check the characteristics of an almost rectilinear cis-lunar halo orbit for future space vessels.
  • Demonstrate entering and maintaining this unique orbit that provides a highly-efficient path to the Moon’s surface and back
  • Demonstrate spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services that allow future spacecraft to determine their location relative to the Moon without relying exclusively on tracking from Earth
  • Lay a foundation for commercial support of future lunar operations
  • Gain experience with small dedicated launches of CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit, to the Moon, and beyond


  • Advanced Space of Westminster, Colorado, is developing and operating CAPSTONE.
  • Tyvak nano-satellite systems, an orbital terran company based in Irvine, California, is constructing the cubesat platform.
  • Stellar Exploration, Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif., supplies the propulsion system for the cornerstone.
  • Long Beach Rocket Laboratory, CA, provides launch services. The launch is managed through NASA's launch services program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • The NASA Small Craft Technology Program within the Space Technology Missions Directorate of the Agency manages the flagship project. The program is based out of NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.
  • NASA's state-of-the-art exploration systems within the agency's exploration systems development mission leadership fund the launch and support mission operations.
  • The development of the ceilings is supported by the program of research in innovation for small enterprises (sbir) of the nasa.
  • NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is in charge of the OLR.