CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, successfully tested a navigation technology akin to Earth’s GPS for the first time in May, advancing a capability that could help future space missions more efficiently navigate at the Moon. The spacecraft also captured its first images of the Moon, showing the lunar surface near the Moon’s North Pole as CAPSTONE made a close approach to the Moon on May 3.
CAPSTONE is a microwave oven-sized CubeSat flying a unique, elliptical orbit at the Moon that will be used by Gateway. The test of the mission’s technology involved two spacecraft: CAPSTONE and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). During the May 9 experiment, CAPSTONE sent a signal to LRO designed to measure the distance and relative velocity between the two spacecraft. LRO then returned the signal to CAPSTONE, where it was converted into a measurement. The test proved the ability to collect measurements that will be utilized by the mission’s software to determine the positioning of both spacecraft. This capability could provide autonomous onboard navigation information for future lunar missions.