Nasa loses contact with Capstone spacecraft on way to Moon

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Nasa has lost communications with its Capstone spacecraft, the space agency announced Tuesday afternoon.

Capstone, or the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, launched on 28 June from New Zealand, and everything appeared to be functioning normally for the small, 55-pound small satellite during and after lift off.

“The spacecraft team currently is working to understand the cause and re-establish contact,” a Nasa blog post read at 12.29pm EDT Tuesday.

The spacecraft successfully separated from the upper stage of a Rocket Labs Photon rocket on 4 July, with the rocket setting the spacecraft on a slow but efficient trajectory designed to place it in orbit around the Moon by mid-November. Capstone is designed to explore an unusual orbit that Nasa hopes will eventually host a space station to aid lunar astronauts as they begin exploring the Moon’s south pole later this decade.

It’s not clear if that mission is in jeopardy or not, but according to a Nasa update, the communications failure appears to reside in Capstone and not the Deep Space Network, an array of large antenna’s Nasa uses to communicate with missions beyond Earth orbit.

Capstone, “experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network,” the Nasa blog reads. “The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network.”

That trajectory information, the blog post adds, will allow ground controllers to delay for a few days the course correction maneuvers necessary to get Capstone headed in the right direction, buying engineers more time to find out what happened and possibly fix it.

Nasa will provide further updates about Capstone on the space agency’s blog.