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CAPSTONE

CAPSTONE [Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems]

CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) will be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, the CubeSat will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1600 km and as far as 70000 km from the lunar surface. It is a 12U CubeSat.

NASA has awarded in September 2019 a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate a CubeSat mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway – an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA’s Artemis program. The award to Advanced Space is through a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, a follow-on to earlier SBIR awards that developed CAPSTONE’s autonomous positioning and navigation system experiment.

The CAPSTONE team includes Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc. of Irvine, California. The project is managed by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, SST expands U.S. capability to execute unique missions through rapid development and demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft applicable to exploration, science and the commercial space sector. Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) within NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will fund the launch and support mission operations. AES engages in activities focused on advanced design, development, and demonstration of exploration capabilities to reduce risk, lower life cycle cost and validate operational concepts for future human missions.

The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon’s surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations.

The 12U CubeSat is about the size of a small microwave oven. Onboard is a communications system capable of determining how far CAPSTONE is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two spacecraft is changing. The inter-spacecraft information will be used to demonstrate software for autonomous navigation, allowing future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.

  • Demonstration of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services
  • Verification of near rectilinear halo orbit characteristics for future spacecraft
  • Experience entering this orbit with a highly efficient lunar transfer
  • Experience with rideshare or small dedicated launches to the Moon
  • Commercial experience providing mission planning and operations support services for CubeSats beyond Earth
  • Rapid commercial delivery of a CubeSat mission beyond Earth orbit

A number of launch options are possible for the mission, including being the primary payload on a small spacecraft launch vehicle. After launch, CAPSTONE will take approximately three months to enter its target orbit and begin a six-month primary demonstration phase to understand operations in this unique regime.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Technology, interplanetary
Operator: Advanced Space for NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES)
Contractors: Advanced Space (prime); Tyvak (spacecraft)
Equipment: ?
Configuration: CubeSat (12U)
Propulsion: ?
Power: Solar arrays, batteries
Lifetime: 6 months
Mass:
Orbit: Lunar halo orbit
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
CAPSTONE - 2020 with ?