BY: SARAH WANG
Hello! I'm Sarah and a senior in high school interested in research biology and education equity. I love to teach others using my knowledge and resources, while also learning and growing as a scientist myself!
In early 2021, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is projected to initiate CAPSTONE, NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. CAPSTONE will launch a “microwave oven-sized” CubeSat that weighs only 55 pounds. The CubeSat will be the first spacecraft to test a special elliptical lunar orbit.
It will take approximately three months for CAPSTONE to reach its target destination, and it will remain in orbit for at least another six months in order to fully understand the orbit’s characteristics. CAPSTONE will validate NASA’s model calculations on both power and propulsion requirements for spacecraft orbit, getting rid of any uncertainties.
The unique orbit that CAPSTONE will follow will exhibit an efficient path to the Moon from the Earth and will also establish an ideal staging area for missions to the Moon. It will demonstrate inter-spacecraft navigation services that will potentially allow spacecraft to pinpoint their locations relative to the Moon without exclusive reliance on tracking from Earth. It will, simultaneously, test the reliability of communication abilities with Earth. By testing navigation technologies while exploring this unique orbit, CAPSTONE will reduce risk for future spacecraft missions.
NASA’s CAPSTONE is the pioneer for a future of ever-expanding possibilities for smaller and more affordable space exploration missions to the Moon and various destinations throughout the solar system.
Students can also get involved with the mission to open doors to endless opportunities for space exploration. The U.S. Department of Education launched the CTE Mission, a new space exploration mission challenge for high school students. For more information about the CTE Mission and how to participate, refer to the below information!
U.S. Department of Education Launches Space Mission Challenge for High School Students