Capstone does lunar fly-by, takes first lunar pictures, completes main mission

The Moon as seen by Capstone
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The smallsat engineering test lunar orbiter Capstone has now successfully ended its primary mission, completing six months of operation in the near-rectilinear halo orbit that NASA’s Lunar Gateway manned space station intends to fly.

To put a final touch on that main mission, in May mission managers at the private company Advanced Space also completed two additional experiments. On May 3, 2023 they performed a close-fly of the Moon, using the spacecraft’s camera for the first time to take the picture of the Moon to the right.

Then, on May 9 Capstone successfully tested navigation technology in conjunction with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), also in orbit around the Moon.

During the May 9 experiment, CAPSTONE sent a signal to LRO designed to measure the distance and relative velocity between the two spacecraft. LRO then returned the signal to CAPSTONE, where it was converted into a measurement. The test proved the ability to collect measurements that will be utilized by CAPS software to determine the positioning of both spacecraft. This capability could provide autonomous onboard navigation information for future lunar missions.

The mission now enters its extended mission, planned to last at least a year.