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NASA has lost contact with one of its satellites after it broke free of the Earth’s orbit on the way to the moon.
The tiny CubeSat stopped communication with the Deep Space Network on Tuesday. The DSN is NASA’s radio antenna network that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions as well as some orbiting Earth.
The CubeSat is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, also known as CAPSTONE.
The connection difficulties forced the mission team to delay the satellite’s first trajectory correction maneuver originally scheduled for July 5, NASA said. These are a series of planned corrections to increase the accuracy of the orbit transfer to the moon.
After CAPSTONE successfully left Earth’s orbit, it started charging its onboard battery using solar arrays, according to an update from NASA.
The CubeSat is waiting for the trajectory correction and remains on the overall intended course for its ballistic lunar transfer, NASA said.
Leaving the Earth’s orbit
The mission launched aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand on June 28.
The CubeSats’s goal is to enter an elongated orbit, which is a near rectilinear halo orbit, around the moon for at least six months for research purposes.
The satellite’s orbit will bring the spacecraft within 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) of one lunar pole at its closest pass and within 43,500 miles (70,006.5 kilometers) from the other pole every seven days.
The team hopes the satellite can maintain its orbit, which could allow the agency to launch and place an outpost in lunar orbit called the Gateway. It would play a crucial role in their Artemis program by providing future spacecraft an efficient path to and from the moon’s surface.
Additionally, the small satellite will also be testing out its communication abilities. The orbit offers a view of Earth while providing coverage for the lunar south pole, which is the scheduled landing point for the Artemis astronauts in 2025.
The CubeSat will also communicate with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit, which has been circling the moon for 13 years. It will act as a reference point for the satellite and allow scientists to measure the distance between the two space objects and where CAPSTONE is in the sky.
Space enthusiasts can track the satellite’s journey using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System.