August 11, 2022

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NASA Loses Contact With Moon Probe, Delays Trajectory Correction Maneuver

Everything was going great for NASA’s Capstone mission to lunar orbit after the microwave-sized spacecraft launched June 28 atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster. On Monday, the probe was successfully deployed from a Photon upper stage and sent in the direction of the moon.

But then it just stopped talking to Earth. NASA engineers are working to re-establish contact with Capstone’s computers. 

“Following successful deployment and start of spacecraft commissioning on July 4, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network,” according to a statement from NASA on Tuesday.

Now that it is on its own without Rocket Lab chaperones, Capstone is supposed to use its own propulsion system to navigate to the moon where it will attempt to enter a new type of halo-shaped orbit around the moon. The craft is testing out the same orbit to be used by NASA’s upcoming lunar gateway, which will serve as an orbiting outpost for Artemis astronauts visiting the moon’s surface later this decade. 

NASA said Capstone is carrying enough fuel that its initial navigation maneuvers can be postponed for several days while mission controllers work to re-establish contact with the spacecraft.

A subsequent update revealed Capstone had pinged two NASA ground stations — one in Madrid, Spain, and the other in Goldstone, California. With this information, NASA was able to determine the probe’s “approximate position and velocity in space.” However, the agency notes its first trajectory correction maneuver has been delayed. 

You can keep on eye on the status of Capstone’s communications with the Deep Space Network and stay tuned for further updates.

Update 8:45 p.m. PT: Added NASA’s secondary update about Capstone’s position.