WASHINGTON — NASA has awarded a contract to a small business for the development of a cubesat designed to demonstrate the use of the unique orbit planned for the agency’s lunar Gateway.
The $13.7 million contract to Colorado company Advanced Space covers the development of Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), a 12-unit cubesat that the agency could launch as soon as the end of 2020.
The spacecraft will likely be the first spacecraft to use what’s known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit, an elliptical polar orbit around the moon whose closest point to the moon is over one pole and most distant point is over the other pole. NASA plans to use that orbit for the lunar Gateway, which will serve as a staging point for human landings near the south pole of the moon starting in 2024.
CAPSTONE will demonstrate that the orbit is stable for spacecraft, reducing what NASA calls “logistical uncertainty” for the Gateway. The spacecraft will also test a navigation system that will measure its position relative to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how that distance is changing over time, allowing the cubesat to measure its position without relying on ground ...