CAPSTONE (spacecraft)

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Mission typeTechnology
Mission duration6 months (planned)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type12U CubeSat
ManufacturerTyvak Nano-Satellite Systems
Start of mission
Launch dateDecember 2020 (proposed)[1][2]
Rocket[to be determined]
Moon orbiter
Orbital parameters
Peri altitude3,000 km (1,900 mi)
Apo altitude70,000 km (43,000 mi)
InclinationElliptic polar orbit

CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) is a planned lunar orbiter that will test and verify the calculated orbital stability planned for the Lunar Gateway station.

The spacecraft is a small 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 Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway (LOP-G or simply: The Gateway) is a future space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.[3] The Gateway station is planned to be deployed in a highly elliptical seven-day near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, which would bring the station within 3,000 km (1,900 mi) of the lunar north pole at closest approach and as far away as 70,000 km (43,000 mi) over the lunar south pole.[4][5][1] It is called a halo orbit because from Earth it will look like a halo around the Moon.[6]

Computer simulations indicate that this orbit offers long-term stability with minimum orbital station-keeping,[4] by using a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon that offers a stable trajectory.[2]

The main objective of the CAPSTONE mission is to verify the calculated orbital stability simulations for the Gateway.[6][2][7] CAPSTONE will be the first spacecraft to operate in that unique lunar orbit.[7][2] The spacecraft will also test a navigation system called Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS),[8] that will measure its position relative to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) without relying on ground stations.[2]


The orbiter is a 12-unit CubeSat.[7][2][6] The $13.7 million contract was awarded to a private company called Advanced Space in September 2019 through a federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract.[7][2] Advanced Space will handle overall project management and some of the spacecraft's key technologies, including its CAPS positioning navigation system,[8] while Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems will develop and build the spacecraft and its propulsion systems.[2]

NASA is responsible for procuring the launch vehicle, yet to be determined,[2] and launch is expected approximately in December 2020.[7][2][1] CAPSTONE will spend six months collecting data during this demonstration.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit. NASA press release 19-073. 13 September 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j NASA cubesat to test lunar Gateway orbit. Jeff Foust. Space News. 16 September 2019.
  3. ^ Jackson, Shanessa (11 September 2018). "Competition Seeks University Concepts for Gateway and Deep Space Exploration Capabilities". NASA. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Angelic halo orbit chosen for humankind's first lunar outpost. European Space Agency, Published by PhysOrg. 19 July 2019.
  5. ^ Halo orbit selected for Gateway space station. David Szondy, New Atlas. 18 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d NASA chooses a CubeSat project to test orbit route around the moon. Georgina Torbet, Digital Trends. 15 September 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e Advanced Space selected to develop CubeSat pathfinder mission. Aerospace Technology. 16 September 2019.
  8. ^ a b Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS). Advanced Space. Accessed on 16 September 2019.