NASA has announced it has awarded a USD 13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, the administration said.
The contract is to develop and operate a CubeSat mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway — an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA´s Artemis program.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is expected to be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, the CubeSat will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.
The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon´s surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations.
NASA´s Artemis lunar exploration program includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars.