Presented at the 36th Annual Small Satellite Conference 2022

Advanced Space: Tom Gardner, Brad Cheetham, Jeff Parker, Alec Forsman, Ethan Kayser, Michael Thompson, Conner Ott, Lauren DeMoudt, Matt Bolliger, Arlen Kam
Terran Orbital: Keith Thompson, Tristan Latchu, Rebecca Rogers
Stellar Exploration: Brennan Bryant, Tomas Svitek


The cislunar environment is about to get much busier and with this increase in traffic comes an increase in the demand for limited resources such as Earth based tracking of and communications with assets operating in and around the Moon. With the number of NASA, commercial, and international missions to the Moon growing rapidly, the need to make these future endeavors as efficient as possible is a challenge that is being solved now. Advanced Space is aiming to mitigate these resource limitations by enabling spacecraft in the cislunar environment to navigate autonomously and reduce the need for oversubscribed ground assets for navigation and maneuver planning.

Launched in June 2022, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission utilizes a 12U CubeSat to demonstrate both the core software for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS) as well as a validation of the mission design and operations of the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) that NASA has baselined for the Artemis Lunar Gateway architecture.The CAPS software enables cislunar missions to manage their navigation functions themselves and reduces the reliance on Earth based tracking requirements without putting these missions at increased risk.

Upon arrival in the NRHO, the CAPSTONE spacecraft will soon initiate its navigation demonstration mission in collaboration with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) operations team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to demonstrate autonomous inter-spacecraft ranging and autonomous navigation between the CAPSTONE spacecraft and LRO. Critical success criteria for CAPSTONE in this demonstration are 1) semi-autonomous operations and orbital maintenance of a spacecraft in an NRHO, 2) collection of inter-spacecraft ranging data, and 3) execution of the CAPS navigation software system in autonomous mode on-board the CAPSTONE spacecraft. Additionally, CAPSTONE continues to demonstrate an innovative one-way ranging navigation approach utilizing a Chip Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC), unique firmware installed on the Iris radio, and onboard autonomous navigation algorithms developed JPL an implemented by Advanced Space.

Advanced Space, along with our partners at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, (STMD), Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), Launch Services Program (LSP), NASA Ames’ Small Spacecraft Office, the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Terran Orbital and Rocket Lab, envision the CAPSTONE mission as a key enabler of both NASA’s upcoming Gateway operations involving multiple spacecraft and eventually the ever-expanding commercial cislunar economy. Over the next 21 months, CAPSTONE will demonstrate an efficient low energy orbital transfer to the lunar vicinity, an insertion into the NRHO, and a risk reducing validation of key exploration operations and technologies required for the ultimate success of NASA’s lunar exploration plans. This paper includes an overview of the mission, the current mission operational status, lessons learned from the launch, lunar transfer, and insertion into the NRHO, an overview of operations plan for the NRHO, and other lessons learned to date in order to inform future missions in support of national exploration and scientific objectives.

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