NASA loses contact with Capstone spacecraft on way to test moon orbit

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Tuesday announced that it has lost contact with a $32.7 million Capstone spacecraft headed to the moon to test out a lopsided lunar orbit. However, the agency engineers are hopeful that they can fix the problem.

This development comes after one successful communication and a second partial one on Monday, the space agency said it could no longer communicate with the spacecraft called Capstone. NASA spokesperson Sarah Frazier on Tuesday said that the engineers are trying to find the cause of the communications loss, but are optimistic they can fix the problem.

The NASA spokesperson highlighted that the spacecraft, which launched from New Zealand on June 28, had spent nearly a week in Earth orbit and had been successfully started on its way to the moon, following which the contact was lost.

The Capstone satellite is the size of a microwave oven and will be the first spacecraft to try out this oval orbit. This is where NASA wants to stage its Gateway outpost and Gateway would serve as a staging point for astronauts before they descend to the lunar surface.

The agency had earlier invited the to follow “CAPSTONE’s journey live using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization.” After about one week of its launch, “you can virtually ride along with the CubeSat with a simulated solar system view.” At its closest, the orbit comes within 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) of the Moon; at its furthest, it is 43,500 miles (70,000 kilometers) away.

The orbit was meant to be extremely fuel-efficient, using the gravitational pull of both the Moon and the Earth. As a stepping stone for a crewed mission to Mars, NASA also intended to construct a moonbase. The new orbit, officially known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit, has the shape of an extended egg, with one end passing close to and the other distant from the moon. From your thumb, picture pulling a rubber band back and the rubber band would stand in for the flight route, and your thumb for the moon.

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