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NASA's Moon-Bound Capstone Spacecraft Gets Unwanted Spinning Under Control

There's hope for the Artemis program mission as its team puts a stop to Capstone's unplanned space gymnastics.

Artist's rendering of the Capstone satellite near the moon
Capstone will fly in cislunar space, the orbital space near and around the moon. 
NASA/Daniel Rutter

The Capstone spacecraft, part of NASA's moon-focused Artemis program, got a bit of good news during what's been a rough journey. On Friday, NASA announced the spacecraft was no longer tumbling after experiencing a major technical glitch in September.

Capstone went into an out-of-control spin after attempting a trajectory correction maneuver. "Data from the spacecraft suggests the most likely cause was a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft's eight thrusters," NASA said. "The partially open valve meant the thruster produced thrust whenever the propulsion system was pressurized." 

The Capstone team worked out a plan to stop the tumble and get the small spacecraft back on track. It sent recovery commands on Friday morning and initial data showed Capstone had slowed its roll and was once again able to orient properly.

Capstone stands for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. It's designed to test out a new kind of "halo" orbit around the moon. NASA wants to use this orbital path for its future Gateway moon station, which will host astronauts.    

This is the second snafu the microwave-size spacecraft has encountered. It briefly lost contact with its operations team back in July. Getting its rotation under control is a big first step in salvaging the mission. 

Colorado-based Advanced Space operates the spacecraft and said Capstone "remains on track to insert into its targeted Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit at the moon on November 13." The team will continue to monitor the mission and make adjustments if needed.