Despite some tense moments en route to the moon, NASA has confirmed that the CAPSTONE CubeSat has successfully completed its first entry into orbit.
The achievement brings NASA one step closer to launching its Gateway lunar space station, which will serve as a base for manned missions as well as a springboard for astronauts to land on the moon.
“Big news!” NASA CEO Bill Nelson tweeted on Sunday. “NASA’s CAPSTONE reached its orbit on the moon and completed its first orbit entry maneuver! The spacecraft will continue to refine its orbit over the next few days and will test the orbit planned for the lunar outpost NASA Gateway.”
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) November 14, 2022
CAPSTONE – short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – will be the first satellite to test the proposed orbit for the Gateway, a facility that will play a key role in the space agency’s Artemis program.
The operational team of the CAPSTONE mission Approved that the satellite fired its thrusters to put it into orbit at 7:39 p.m. ET on Sunday. The satellite is now in what is known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), which is also used by the Gateway outpost.
NASA said CAPSTONE will conduct two additional cleaning maneuvers over the next five days to refine its orbit, after which the team will analyze the data to confirm CAPSTONE remains on course in the NRHO. The work will help NASA plan for Gateway deployments over the next few years.
The positive news comes the same week that NASA is targeting the maiden launch of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for a trip to the moon as part of the Artemis I mission.
The SLS rocket will propel an unmanned Orion spacecraft toward our nearest neighbor in heaven, where it will conduct a flyby before returning to Earth. If the test mission proves successful, Artemis II will take the same route but with a crew on board. After that, Artemis III will attempt to deliver the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface, with both astronauts using the Gateway station as a stopover during a historic mission that could happen as early as 2025.
Looking ahead, NASA plans to build a base on the lunar surface where astronauts can live and work for long periods of time, with the gateway acting as a vital link between the base and Earth.
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