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The CAPSTONE probe reaches its orbit near the moon… and NASA is stuck

NASA has confirmed that the CAPSTONE CubeSat has successfully completed its first orbital insertion maneuver. The achievement puts NASA one step closer to launching the Gateway lunar space station that will serve as a base for crewed missions, as well as a launchpad for landing astronauts on the Moon.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted, “NASA’s CAPSTONE has returned to lunar orbit and completed its first orbital insertion maneuver! The spacecraft will continue to improve its orbit over the next few days, and will test the planned orbit of the NASA space outpost,” Digitartlends reported.

CAPSTONE — short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment — will be the first satellite to test the proposed orbit of Gateway, a facility that will play a key role in the space agency’s Artemis program.

The CAPSTONE mission operations team confirmed that the satellite fired thrusters to put it into orbit last Sunday at 7:39 p.m. The satellite is now in what’s known as a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), the same one the focus will use for the Gateway.

Over the next five days, NASA said, CAPSTONE will perform two more clean-up maneuvers to improve its orbit, after which the team will analyze data to ensure CAPSTONE remains on track at NRHO. The work will help NASA plan for Gateway deployments in the next few years.

The positive news comes the same week that NASA aims to conduct the first launch of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for a trip to the Moon as part of the Artemis I mission.

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The SLS rocket will pilot an uncrewed Orion spacecraft toward our nearest celestial neighbor, where it will flyby before returning to Earth.

If the test mission proves successful, Artemis II will follow the same route, but with a crew on board. Next, Artemis III will attempt to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon, with both astronauts using the Gateway station as a stopping point during a historic mission that could take place in As early as 2025.

Looking into the future, NASA plans to build a base on the Moon where astronauts can live and work for extended periods of time, with the Gateway serving as a vital link between the base and Earth.