Advanced Space LLC., a leading space tech solutions company, is the first commercial entity to own an operational satellite at the Moon. CAPSTONE, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, has finalized its insertion into a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO).
Now that history has been made, the small spacecraft is ready to begin operations for NASA in support of the Artemis program. This milestone also marks the beginning of the navigation experiment that will lay a foundation for future missions. Consistent with the company vision to enable the sustainable exploration, development, and settlement of space, Advanced Space has worked to support the Nation's focus on returning to the Moon. CAPSTONE is tasked to understand the operational characteristics of the orbit, perform technology demonstrations to help reduce the risk for future spacecraft, and to validate innovative navigation technologies.
Why is this orbit so important? This particular NRHO is an orbit around the Moon that has never been flown before and it is the intended orbit for the Gateway space station. NASA and other agencies intend to use Gateway to support Artemis missions to the lunar surface.
In partnership with NASA and others, Advanced Space is developing state-of-the-art tools and infrastructure that will support safe operations at the Moon for future missions. NRHOs are a subset of various complex three-body orbits that are used by various Earth-Moon spacecraft including now the Orion vehicle and several other CubeSats that were launched on the Artemis 1 mission as rideshares. These are challenging to to design and must be actively managed but are valuable for science and human spaceflight.
This small spacecraft will have a big impact. Advanced Space will be demonstrating the autonomous spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation software it has been developing in anticipation of increasingly congested operations at the Moon. This breakthrough navigation technology, called CAPS, has been developed with the support of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and is proving its flight readiness for future missions. Enabling better autonomy on spacecraft in deep space helps reduce their reliance on the Deep Space Network and allows more spacecraft to get the communication time they need for their most critical periods.
"NASA's partnership with Advanced Space on CAPSTONE is enabling NASA to gain critical, additional capabilities at a lower cost," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "CAPSTONE is part of our new era of human exploration at the Moon, testing the unique orbit planned for the Gateway lunar space station."
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment or CAPSTONE, is owned and operated by Advanced Space and was built by Terran Orbital. CAPSTONE is the first commercially owned satellite to fly to and operate at the Moon. Its launch in June was a key initial milestone supporting the Artemis program. The primary mission is planned for 6 months of stationkeeping operations orbiting the Moon as well as crosslink demonstrations with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), with extended mission opportunities in the following 12 months.
"Thank you to Terran Orbital and all our CAPSTONE mission partners. I am proud of our team who have now become only the third organization ever to navigate and operate in these highly valuable Earth-Moon three-body orbits. In many ways, CAPSTONE lays the foundation for future commercial and Government missions.," said Bradley Cheetham, Advanced Space Chief Executive Officer and CAPSTONE Principal Investigator.
"We are grateful to NASA for their trust in us to take on this immense challenge. These demonstrated capabilities are paying dividends for safe and transparent operations in cislunar space. CAPSTONE is just the beginning, it builds on our work supporting Gateway, and enables missions such as AFRL's Oracle mission which we will be leading. For us, it is all about enabling safe and sustainable space operations."
Last week it was announced that the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) awarded a contract to Advanced Space to lead spacecraft development for AFRL's Oracle program to further support space situational awareness beyond Earth orbits. Cislunar space is a growing area of global interest for research, development, national security, and access to interplanetary discovery.
"The flight dynamics operators at Advanced Space have done an excellent job at maintaining very accurate state estimates and designing these three maneuvers over the last week," commented Michael Thompson, Advanced Space Navigation Engineer, and CAPSTONE Orbit Determination Lead. "The core competencies demonstrated in flight dynamics and orbit determination for CAPSTONE will be directly applicable to the AFRL Oracle program and additional future programs currently in development."
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