Advanced Space owns and operates the CAPSTONE mission, a trailblazing pathfinder for the Gateway. The Gateway, a lunar orbiting outpost, will support NASA’s Artemis missions that will establish a long-term, human presence at the Moon. CAPSTONE is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment and will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative technologies and verifying the dynamics of the Earth-Moon halo orbit where the Gateway will operate.
The fourth Operational Readiness Test (ORT-4) for the CAPSTONE mission conducted by the Advanced Space team simulated a week of real-time mission operations in a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), the designated orbit for Gateway, which is being developed by NASA and its international and commercial partners. The Gateway will provide astronauts access to the lunar surface and act as a staging point for deep space exploration and will feature living quarters for astronauts, a lab for science and research as well as ports for visiting spacecraft.
CAPSTONE will be the first spacecraft to fly in this NRHO and one of the first cubesats to fly in cislunar space. It will traverse a low-energy, ballistic, lunar transfer and use solar perturbations to greatly decrease the spacecraft propulsion requirements for the mission. It will also test the peer-to-peer navigation system developed by Advanced Space, CAPS (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System), to determine its position via crosslink measurements with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter without relying on ground stations.
CAPS is supported by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program. CAPS may enable autonomous navigation of satellites in cislunar space, helping to propel humans beyond Earth in a sustained way.
“These tests confirm our Advanced Space team is ready for launch,” said Bradley Cheetham, Advanced Space CEO. “We are excited to partner with NASA on this historic Moon mission. CAPSTONE will change the way we explore space.”
Previous tests also simulated NRHO operations, but an exciting addition for Advanced Space’s ORT- 4 was the expanded testing of CAPS crosslink procedures. As part of the CAPS planning procedures, operators generate appropriate commands, such as telling the spacecraft where to point, in order to execute the CAPS activities on board the spacecraft. Additionally, in ORT-4, operators performed real-time simulations of CAPS measurements on flight-like hardware.
“Our technology is a breakthrough for how NASA and other customers can navigate in space,” said Dr. Jeff Parker, co-founder of Advanced Space, Chief Technology Officer, and author of the book Low-Energy Lunar Trajectory Design. “Each time we have a test event, our lessons learned and ideas for improvements to our system allow us to better prepare for flight operations.”
The main objectives for ORT-4 were to demonstrate scripts and processes for Maneuver Planning and Payload Planning and to exercise the Operations team in nominal and contingency situations in NRHO operations. Additionally, the test conductors injected anomalies to test the Operations team and expose them to possible contingency situations they might see in flight. With the mission targeted for this Spring, these tests and constant communications with company partners such as Tyvak, the spacecraft manufacturer, and Rocket Lab, the launch provider, are critical and increasing the level of excitement.
Advanced Space of Colorado owns the satellite and is responsible for overall mission operations.