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NASA has reconnected with the Capstone probe, Artemis has been hot

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This probe, essential for the proper functioning of the Artemis program, has finally deigned to answer the engineers. Uff!

On June 28, NASA finally launched Capstone, the first spacecraft to take off specifically as part of the Artemis program. This cube left to play the role of scout; he is the one who will pave the way for the three missions that should eventually bring humans back to the moon within a few years … at least, if all goes well. Because the machine has already scared NASA engineers.

Capstone was put into orbit using a Photon capsule, itself mounted on a RocketLab Electron launch vehicle. Once stripped of the rocket’s body, the capsule’s small motor gradually expanded its orbit over the course of a few days; a passage that allowed him to adjust his trajectory to take advantage of an ideal transfer window to our satellite.

A chilling silence for the engineers

After one final strategic push, Capstone left his custody to begin his journey to the Moon. And that’s when the spacecraft terrified the teams at Advanced Space, which runs the mission on behalf of NASA. When he should have given news for the third time, he is he remained silent and completely stopped responding to requests from the ground crew.

The timing was far from ideal. Because two days later, on July 6, Capstone had to perform the first corrective maneuver to refine his approach to the Moon. However, as of this date, the probe was still catatonic.

This means that this strategically planned maneuver to save fuel has had to be postponed. In this situation, therefore, time is running out: the later Capstone wakes up, the more he deviates from the optimal trajectory. You should then spend more fuel to correct his approach, which consequently reduces the total life of the mission.

The probe is fine, but the mystery remains

This situation forced the engineers to initiate an emergency procedure to try to restore contact. Fortunately, they finally succeeded on July 6 after a week of utter distress. ” We have reestablished communication with Capstone “, Advanced Space announced on Twitter. ” The probe looks healthy “, The company specified.

The good news is that Capstone came out of the coma early enough to perform this first fix in good condition, without having to spend too much fuel. He is therefore well on his way to reaching his final destination without incident.

The bad news is that, as it stands, Advanced Space and NASA have not yet indicated the exact origin of this failure. Of course, they promise “more details” very soon. But this relative silence suggests that gray areas still exist … which leaves the door open to new shortcomings.

A rendering of the Artemis base camp as imagined by NASA. © NASA

A small company with great responsibilities

About Sword of Damocles, knowing the central role of Capstone in the Artemis program. Indeed, he is a scout who must pave the way for the future Lunar Gateway.

This is a new type of space station that will serve as a lunar outpost. This infrastructure will provide a base of operations that will greatly facilitate the stay of astronauts leaving for the Moon and beyond, as well as all the logistics related to these missions.

This advanced base will be parked in an exotic orbit (see our article) where no one has yet installed a spacecraft. Patterns indicate that it should be stable. But it’s not about tossing a coin for such an ambitious program. Capstone is therefore responsible for demonstrating the stability of this very special orbit. He will also collect a lot of data that will be very useful for preparing Artemis missions 2 and 3.

So we can be relieved that Capstone is communicating again. Because if the Artemis I mission probably would not have been affected, that’s another story for Artemis 2 and 3. The smooth running of these two missions, which must respectively return humans to orbit and then to the surface of the Moon, largely depends starts from the results that will be reported by the probe.

Had NASA lost Capstone, Artemis 2 and 3 would surely have suffered another major setback. It is therefore to be hoped that this malfunction was only an unrepeatable episode, and not the first manifestation of a chronic problem that could endanger this crucial mission.

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