The small capstone picks up the probe and begins the great recovery of the moon

This tiny cubesat isn’t too big, but it has to be bold because the Artemis program is counting a lot on it.

Even in space, size is not everything. NASA’s tiny capstone probe is going to prove it; He has officially departed for a mission with huge impact.

Weighing just 25 kilograms, the cube set sailed from New Zealand’s Launch Complex 1, a rocket-stamped rocket lab. A choice that is not surprising, since the electron microlancer of this young company dominates the part of his head and shoulders. For comparison, this machine is 18 meters taller than the 70 meters for the SpaceX Falcon 9.

The exit went exactly as planned and the capstone was parked in Earth orbit. For six days, the ship will accelerate several times according to a program carefully calculated by engineers. It will then be able to extricate itself from Earth orbit and free itself from the fuselage of the launcher; It will henceforth form a dead weight outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

A decisive scout for the Lunar Gateway

In this form Cubesat will reach its ultimate goal Next November 13thTo find out The moon. A final series of strategies will allow it to fit once and always into a stable orbit around our satellite.

He will then undertake a decisive mission for human return to the scene. In fact, he will play the role of scout Paving the way for the installation of the lunar gateway, The future is a fundamental part of the Artemis mission and beyond. (See our article).

Capstone will act as a scout to set up the Lunar Gateway. The outpost itself will become a central component of the space infrastructure from the Artemis mission. NASA / JPL

It is a space station that will play a roleMoon Outpost. This infrastructure will provide an operational base that will not be too much for the convenience of the astronauts on the moon, as well as all the logistics related to these missions.

So far, however, no company has yet placed such a large spacecraft in orbit around the moon for extended periods of time. And despite all the modeling efforts of researchers, there are still many unanswered questions.

Going into a curved orbit

The first of these concerns the precise orbit that will be occupied by Capstone. In fact, NASA wants to use one Halo orbit of semi-rectilia (Where NRHO, Near-rectilinear hello for orbit). It is a very special orbit, in many ways Specially marked angles In certain places.

In space, all massive objects such as planets and their satellites have a gravitational effect on nearby celestial objects. And its scope is far from negligible.

Example of a semi-rectilinear hello orbit, or NRHO. Wikimedia Commons (author indefinite)

For example, even though it is relatively close to Earth, the presence of the moon disturbs the trajectory of the ISS very little. Technically, its orbit is not completely stable.

The earth is very large, and it affects far more than the moon; The latter can therefore be handled quite easily. This is enough to regularly adjust the orbit of the station, which is already necessary to compensate for friction with a few air particles in the very upper atmosphere.

But in the lunar orbit the situation changes radically. Our satellites are much less massive than Earth, and cannot provide as stable orbits as the latter; Our planet has considerable influence on certain lunar orbits (see three-body problem). The trajectory of the lunar probe is therefore strategically designed to minimize this effect.

In the case of the NHRO selected by NASA for the Lunar Gateway, the impact of the Earth is very noticeable, which gives it its special shape. The models indicate that this should be the case Relatively stable. But there is no question of taking the slightest risk for this very ambitious mission.


A big step towards Artemis 2 and 3

And that’s exactly what Capstone is all about; It will serve asScout – or in the worst case cannon fodder. He has to Demonstrate the ability to maintain this orbit Agency to prove it wasn’t a wrong bet.

Once this first box is checked, it will collect a lot of data which will allow Refine the location of future gateways. Finally, he should Ensure proper operation Everyone’s “Guidance, navigation, and communication systemsWhich will be essential for outposts and Artemis missions.

If all goes well, the arrival of Capstone around the moon will therefore be a decisive success for NASA. Thanks to his work, engineers will be able to The last description of the road is fine-tuned Which will bring people back to the moon (see our article).

Enough to get to the launch of Artemis 1, which is scheduled for August 2022, with complete peace of mind. It will then lead to the launch of Gateway and Artemis 2; On this occasion man will set out to conquer the lunar orbit. Then it will be time to launch Artemis 3, the most anticipated mission by which astronauts will trample these dusty valleys for the first time since 1972.

Suffice it to say that a large part of the Artemis mission is based on this small search; Capstone should have wide shoulders despite the small size! Its adventures need to be followed with special attention from 13th November.

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