CAPSTONE enters safe mode during trajectory correction maneuver

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PARIS — A NASA-funded cubesat mission to the moon has gone into safe mode after suffering a problem during a trajectory correction maneuver, the agency said Sept. 10.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft was performing its third trajectory correction maneuver on Sept. 8 when it encountered an unspecified problem late in the burn, NASA said in a brief statement. That issue put the spacecraft into a protective safe mode.

“The CAPSTONE mission team has good knowledge of the state and status of the spacecraft,” NASA said in the statement. “The mission operations team is in contact with the spacecraft and working towards a solution with support from the Deep Space Network.”

NASA issued the statement several hours after satellite observers noticed unusual activity on the Deep Space Network associated with CAPSTONE, with several antennas at the network’s Goldstone, California, facility attempting to communicate with the spacecraft. That behavior appeared similar to what happened when the spacecraft encountered a communications problem shortly after its deployment in July.

CAPSTONE is a NASA-funded mission to test operations in the near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon that the agency plans to use for the Artemis lunar exploration campaign, including the lunar Gateway. The spacecraft will also test its ability to determine its position autonomously while in that orbit. CAPSTONE won the Small Satellite Mission of the Year award at the annual Small Satellite Conference in August.

CAPSTONE is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space. “The anomaly resolution has been enabled by the exceptional support of the team at the Deep Space Network,” the company said in its own statement. “The mission operations team is in contact with the vehicle and working to resolve the anomaly.”

Advanced Space handles operations of CAPSTONE along with Terran Orbital, which built the spacecraft. Rocket Lab launched CAPSTONE in June on its Electron rocket, injecting it into a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory on its Lunar Photon kick stage. It is scheduled to enter orbit around the moon Nov. 13.