Engineers are still working out the problems plaguing NASA’s tiny moon-bound CAPSTONE probe.
CAPSTONE entered safe mode after an engine burnout on September 8, and the mission team has been dealing with the problem ever since.
CAPSTONE microwave oven size is a pioneer cubesat science, helping to extend the range of these small spacecraft much further Earth orbit. The as-yet-undiagnosed issues may demonstrate the challenge of operating smaller vehicles in a deep-radiation environment space.
According to the CAPSTONE teams, the 25-kilogram spacecraft is currently in stable condition, but engineers have yet to gain full control of it.
Related: Why NASA’s tiny CAPSTONE probe will take so long to reach the moon
“The CAPSTONE mission team continues to work to regain full three-axis control of the spacecraft,” Colorado-based Advanced Space, which operates the spacecraft for NASA, wrote in its latest update. (opens in new tab) on September 30. (The three axes are yaw, pitch, and roll, which are used in aerospace to define the motions of objects in air or space.)
The teams are currently “collecting information from the spacecraft, running simulations and refining recovery plans,” Advanced Space added. NASA, in its own update (opens in new tab)echoed those processes and emphasized that the spacecraft is still flying toward the moon and “producing more power from its solar panels than the spacecraft’s systems are using.”
The initial fault “led to the vehicle stalling [orientation] Rates are increasing beyond the ability of the on-board reaction wheels to control and cope,” according to a September 12 update from Advanced Space. As a result, CAPSTONE entered safe mode.
CAPSTONE launched over a Rocket Lab electron booster on June 28 with an ambitious mission to understand and characterize a lunar near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). This is the same orbit that will be used by NASA gate space station in a few years.
NASA wants to verify how stable the orbit is before launching Gateway, which is a key part of Artemis moon program. In addition to this orbital verification, the cubesat has planned navigation and communications experiments, including some in collaboration with NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
CAPSTONE is not expected to reach the moon until Nov. 13 and remains on course, team members said. On July 4, the teams overcame another major problem when the spacecraft went dark shortly after separating from Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft shuttle. The teams traced the problem to a malformed command and fixed it a day later.