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Panic at Nasa as scientists LOSE contact with $32.7 million spacecraft bound for moon

NASA has reestablished contact with a multi-million dollar probe after more than 24 hours of darkness.

The CAPSTONE satellite sparked panic among scientists Monday when it failed to make contact after separating from a larger spacecraft.

Communications with the CAPSTONE satellite were lost after about a week in space

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Communications with the CAPSTONE satellite were lost after about a week in spacePhoto Credit: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter
The CAPSTONE satellite weighs only 55 pounds

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The CAPSTONE satellite weighs only 55 poundsPhoto credit: NASA
The CAPSTONE was launched to test an orbital pattern that could one day fit Nasa's plan to build the Gateway Space Station

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The CAPSTONE was launched to test an orbital pattern that could one day fit Nasa’s plan to build the Gateway Space Station

But on Wednesday, the space agency said it managed to get back in touch with the $32.7 million spacecraft.

“We have restored communication with CAPSTONE. The spacecraft looks happy and healthy,” an agency working with Nasa tweeted.

CAPSTONE – which stands for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – is an early research mission in Nasa plans to bring humans back to the moon.

The Mini Sat was launched on Jun 28 on a Rocket Lab Electron Booster and separated from the launcher on July 4.

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The spacecraft maintained two correspondences with operators on Earth after detaching from its carrier before disconnecting for unexplained reasons.

After setting up its solar arrays and preparing its onboard propulsion system, it was getting dark.

The loss of contact forced mission controllers to postpone a planned course correction that was scheduled for July 5.

But fortunately, the CAPSTONE mission should proceed as planned, as it has fuel reserves onboard that can withstand “several days” of delays, Space.com reports.

The 55-pound satellite is testing an orbit that could be suitable for a permanent lunar space station.

The long, egg-shaped orbit was chosen for the tests because it uses the gravity of the Earth and Moon, minimizing fuel requirements.

“Researchers expect this orbit to be a gravitational sweet spot in space — where the gravity of the Earth and Moon combine to allow for a near-stable orbit — allowing physics to do most of the work to get a spacecraft in lunar orbit,” said a mission overview guide.

Gateway is Nasa’s ambitious plan to build a lunar space station that will serve as a pit stop for astronauts en route to the moon and beyond.

Once CAPSTONE has settled into its orbit in late November, researchers will analyze whether the orbit is suitable for a long-term space station.

“The flight of CAPSTONE will show how this unique lunar orbit can support future spacecraft around the moon and help usher in a new era of manned space exploration,” says a video promoting the small but powerful satellite.

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CAPSTONE is the first mission in Nasa’s newest chapter in spaceflight called Artemis.

Future Artemis missions will bring humans to the lunar surface for the first time in over 50 years.

https://www.the-sun.com/tech/5713805/nasa-lose-contact-spacecraft-headed-for-the-moon/ Panic at Nasa as scientists LOSE contact with $32.7 million spacecraft bound for moon

Chris Barrese

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