NASA Is Sending a Small Craft To Test the Gateway Orbit
Sept. 16, 2019 (EIRNS)—NASA announced on Sept. 13 that it has contracted with a Colorado company, Advanced Space, to build a small cubesat that would conduct a dry run of the highly elliptical orbit that is planned for the agency’s Lunar Gateway. It could launch as early as next year, NASA says. The contract is for $13.7 million. Collaborating with Advanced Space will be cubesat developer Tyvak Nano-Satellite, whose artist’s rendering of the new spacecraft is now widely circulating.
The intended orbit is described as a near-rectilinear halo orbit, which circles the Moon pole-to-pole, rather than at the Equator. This is important, as the manned lunar mission is targetted for the South Pole region of the Moon. The “halo” designation denotes a region of relative gravitational balance between the Moon or the Earth and the Sun. NASA has posted an animation of the intended orbit.
No spacecraft has ever been sent on such an orbit, and NASA wants to test its stability. NASA’s Jim Reuter, Associate Administator for space technology, said on Sept. 13 that the mission “is highly ambitious in both cost and schedule, and taking that deliberate risk is part of the objective of this mission....”
The new cubesat is a 12-unit spacecraft with the name of CAPSTONE, an acronym for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment.