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Cubesat Will Test Lunar Navigation Technologies in Lunar Gateway Orbit

NASA has granted a contract to a small business for the development of a CubeSat produced to reveal the usage of the distinctive orbit planned for the agency’s lunar Gateway.

The $13.7 million contracts to Colorado company Advanced Space includes the construction of Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment known as CAPSTONE, a 12 unit CubeSat that the agency might launch as soon as the end of 2020.

The spacecraft will probably be the primary spacecraft to use what’s generally recognized as a close-rectilinear halo orbit, an elliptical polar orbit the moon whose nearest point to the moon is over one pole and the most distant point is over the opposite pole. NASA planning to use that orbit for the lunar Gateway, which can serve as a staging point for human landings close to the south pole of the moon begins in 2024.

CAPSTONE will illustrate that the orbit is stable for spacecraft, decreasing what NASA calls “logistical uncertainty” for the Gateway. The spacecraft will even test a navigation system that can measure its position relevant to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how this distance is changing over time, providing the CubeSat to measure its position without relying on ground stations.

Collaborating with Advanced Space on the mission is Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a CubeSat developer. Brad Cheetham, chief executive of Advanced Space, stated Tyvak would provide the spacecraft whereas Advanced Space will deal with overall project management and among the spacecraft’s key technologies like it is a navigation system.

Advanced Space has been working on lunar navigation technologies, including successful a Space Act Agreement with NASA in July for that system, known as the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS). That earlier agreement, Cheetham stated, will support CAPS, and thus the CAPSTONE mission, by giving the company passage to NASA expertise as well as resources from the Lunar Reconnaissance Mission.

How CAPSTONE makes it to lunar orbit remains uncertain. NASA’s statement mentioned that the agency was considering numerous options, including launching the CubeSat as a primary payload on a small launch vehicle. NASA anticipates the spacecraft reaching lunar orbit in three months for a six-month primary mission.

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