The first photos of the Moon were taken by NASA’s CAPSTONE mission, a microwave oven-sized CubeSat, and they depict the lunar surface close to the North Pole.
The picture was taken on May 3 as the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) approached the Moon.
Additionally, it made progress in a capacity that could make future space missions more adept at navigating the Moon by successfully testing a navigation system similar to GPS on Earth.
The 25 kg spacecraft launched to the Moon on June 28, last year, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. It is the first spacecraft to experiment with an elliptical lunar orbit.
It flies in cislunar space, which is the region of the Moon’s orbit that surrounds it. The mission will use a nearly rectilinear halo orbit planned for Artemis’ Gateway to showcase a cutting-edge spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technique at the Moon.
Two spacecraft—NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and CAPSTONE—were used to test the mission’s CAPS technology.
A signal from CAPSTONE to LRO was delivered during the experiment on May 9 in order to gauge the distance and relative velocity between the two spacecraft.
The signal was subsequently delivered by LRO to CAPSTONE, where it was transformed into a measurement. The test demonstrated the capability of gathering data that CAPS software will use to pinpoint the positions of both spacecraft. Future lunar missions might use this feature to give autonomous onboard navigation data.
Aside from the successful CAPS test, CAPSTONE met another mission goal by flying in a near-rectilinear halo orbit for at least six months.
The spacecraft’s primary mission has concluded, and CAPSTONE will continue to fly in orbit and test onboard technology for up to a year during its expanded mission phase.