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NASA's CAPSTONE satellite is out of safe mode and on track for Moon orbit this month

Artemis orbit tester back in the pipe, five by five

NASA has corrected the trajectory of the CAPSTONE cubesat, which is now set to reach lunar orbit on November 13.

Launched in June, the microwave-oven-sized satellite was on course to enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon before the spacecraft suffered a glitch that forced it to enter safe mode.

Now that the craft is on track, scientists can test their belief that the lunar NRHO is sufficiently stable to support the future Lunar Gateway lab for astronauts, and CAPSTONE's job is to spend six months taking measurements and probing the orbital mechanics to verify that hypothesis.

CAPSTONE suffered a brief setback, however, when it went silent last month. Mission Control temporarily lost communication with the spacecraft and realized its navigation system had malfunctioned. The satellite was stuck in a cycle of repeated reboots whilst spinning through space.

Engineers put the bird into safe mode and sent instructions to reconfigure its orientation.

CAPSTONE appears to have fully recovered from the glitch, and successfully performed an orbital burn to get it closer to the Moon on schedule.

"CAPSTONE is no longer in safe mode following an issue in early September that caused the spacecraft to spin," NASA confirmed in a statement.

"The team identified the most likely cause as a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft's eight thrusters. The mission team will design future maneuvers to work around the affected valve, including the two remaining trajectory correction maneuvers scheduled before CAPSTONE's arrival to orbit at the Moon."

Being out of safe mode, the craft can now continue to operate as expected and required.

On October 27, the satellite's propulsion system fired for approximately 220 seconds and executed the burn when it was 308,076 miles (495,800km) from Earth – about 14 times farther than geostationary orbit. CAPSTONE is still quite far away from the Moon, and will have to perform two more orbital burns to reach its target destination. 

CAPSTONE is owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, but was built by Terran Orbital. Advanced Space's systems engineering lead and mission operations manager, Alec Forsman, said: "This [trajectory correction maneuver] confirms the preparation, extensive analysis, teams working together and continued hard work to allow this mission to remain successful, especially following the recent anomaly.

"Every activity provides many lessons learned before our arrival at the Moon. These experiences better prepare the team for lunar operations." ®

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