CAPSTONE lunar probe phones home after dramatic day of silence
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) lunar mission looks like it's back on track after a day of suspense, as NASA and contractor Advanced Space re-establish radio contact with the robotic CubeSat probe.
Radio contact was lost with the CAPSTONE spacecraft and NASA's Deep Space Network on Monday, shortly after it separated from the Rocket Lab Photon upper stage booster. Having completed a series of booster burns over six days, CAPSTONE had left low-Earth orbit and was on a ballistic trajectory to cislunar space.
According to NASA, the loss of communications wasn't of immediate concern because the probe had sufficient propellant aboard to delay a required course correction burn for a few days, and mission control had confidence in the craft's position and trajectory.
Meanwhile, the CAPSTONE mission team worked on the communications to isolate the problem and correct it. Today, at 7:26 am MT, the first signals were received from CAPSTONE and telemetry feeds were reestablished at 8:18 am MT.
The mission operations team says that the initial data from the spacecraft indicates that it is healthy and functioning as expected. While communications were interrupted, CAPSTONE continued to function autonomously, maintaining its proper attitude and pointing its antenna toward the Earth. In addition, it maintained its battery charge and carried out a momentum desaturation maneuver to remove excess spin from the reaction wheels used by the craft to keep the probe stable.
The engineers have declared CAPSTONE to be back to operational capacity and the navigation system has been updated. Currently, the spacecraft has been programmed to carry out the Trajectory Correction Maneuver thruster fire tomorrow at 9:30 am MT.