CAPSTONE (spacecraft)


Capstone graphic 13feb20 0.jpg
NamesCislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment
Mission typeTechnology
Mission duration9 months (planned)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type12U CubeSat
ManufacturerAdvanced Space and
Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems
Launch mass25 kg (55 lb) [1]
Start of mission
Launch dateOctober 2021 (planned)[2]
Launch siteMahia, LC-1A[3]
ContractorRocket Lab
Moon orbiter
OrbitsNear-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) [1]

Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is a lunar orbiter that will test and verify the calculated orbital stability planned for the Gateway space station. The spacecraft is a 12-unit CubeSat that will also test a navigation system that will measure its position relative to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) without relying on ground stations.


The Gateway is an in-development space station being planned by several national space agencies since at least 2018, including NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The Gateway is planned to be placed in lunar orbit and intended to serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.[4] It would play a major role in NASA's Artemis program.

Computer simulations indicate that this particular orbit — a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) — offers long-term stability with low propellant requirements for orbital station-keeping,[5] by using a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon that offers a stable trajectory.[6]

The main objective of the CAPSTONE mission is to verify the calculated orbital stability simulations for the Gateway.[7][6][8] CAPSTONE will be the first spacecraft to operate in that unique lunar orbit.[8][6] The spacecraft will also test a navigation system called Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS),[9] that will measure its position relative to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) without relying on ground stations.[6]

Rocket Lab will launch the pathfinding flight that will be the first use and test of an NRHO orbit. Under contract to NASA, CAPSTONE will be launched by a small-lift launch vehicle Electron.[10]


The orbiter is a 12-unit CubeSat.[8][6][7] The US$13.7 million contract was awarded to a private company called Advanced Space, Boulder, Colorado, on 13 September 2019 through a federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract.[8][6] Advanced Space handled overall project management and some of the spacecraft's key technologies, including its CAPS positioning navigation system,[9] while Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Irvine, California, developed and built the spacecraft bus,[6] and Stellar Exploration, Inc developed its propulsion systems.[11]

NASA announced on 14 February 2020 that CAPSTONE will be launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster, initially from the company's new launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, in Virginia.[1] The launch is scheduled for October 2021 and has been moved to Mahia, LC-1.[3][2] Following a three-month trip to the Moon, the CAPSTONE lunar satellite will spend six months collecting data during this demonstration.[1]

Rocket Lab's new launch pad in Virginia, designated Launch Complex 2, was completed in 2019 and was hoped to be ready to support launches in 2021. The company said the new facility primarily supports Electron missions with U.S. government payloads. However, certification of the Automated Flight Termination System (AFTS) has taken longer than anticipated, resulting in the launch site being changed to Mahia.[3] The launch contract with Rocket Lab has a value of US$9.95 million, according to NASA.[1]


As of September 2021, the CubeSat has been transhipped to the launch site and is scheduled to go into space in October of that year.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Clark, Stephen (15 February 2020). "NASA picks Rocket Lab to launch lunar CubeSat mission". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b David, Leonard (25 August 2021). "CAPSTONE, a small cubesat bound for the moon, is preparing for an October launch". Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "Rocket Lab to Launch NASA Funded Commercial Moon Mission from New Zealand" (Press release). Rocket Lab. 6 August 2021. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  4. ^ "Competition Seeks University Concepts for Gateway and Deep Space Exploration Capabilities". NASA. 11 September 2018. Retrieved 19 September 2018. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ "Angelic halo orbit chosen for humankind's first lunar outpost". ESA. 18 July 2019. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Foust, Jeff (16 September 2019). "NASA cubesat to test lunar Gateway orbit". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  7. ^ a b Torbet, Georgina (15 September 2019). "NASA chooses a CubeSat project to test orbit route around the moon". Digital Trends. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d "Advanced Space selected to develop CubeSat pathfinder mission". Aerospace Technology. 16 September 2019. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS)". Advanced Space. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Rocket Lab - They Go Up So Fast Launch webcast". Rocket Lab via YouTube. 22 March 2021. 9:24–11:05. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  11. ^ Hall, Loura (31 July 2020). "What is CAPSTONE?". NASA. Retrieved 4 August 2020. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. ^