Small CO Firm to Build NASA CubeSat for Gateway Tests

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When It Comes to NASA Contracts, Space X, Boeing, and the Big Boys Aren’t the Only Players in the Game

The few folks that work at Advanced Space in Boulder, CO have got to be pretty pleased with a new 13.7-million-dollar contract that tasks them with building a crucial part of NASA’s Gateway project. Advanced Space will build a small NASA CubeSat designed to test the unique lunar orbit planned for the Gateway spacecraft. This contract, along with others handed out this summer, demonstrate NASA’s commitment to public-private partnerships. Further, it demonstrates that they’re willing to use any means necessary to meet Vice President Pence’s 2024 lunar deadline.

The CAPSTONE Project

No, you’re not in your senior year of college again (or yet.. er… if you are, this has nothing to do with that Capstone). CAPSTONE stands for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. That’s the name of the project that will produce a 12-unit NASA cubesat. As early as next year, that tiny CubeSat will enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit. Basically, that means that it will orbit the Moon elliptically around its poles. Also, the apex of the elliptical orbit will be at its closest above one lunar pole—probably the south—and at its furthest above the other. If everything goes as planned, the CAPSTONE craft will be the first to achieve such an orbit.

NASA hopes to use the same orbital pattern for the lunar Gateway spacecraft. Therefore, they consider CAPSTONE a crucial experiment. If CAPSTONE’s orbit is successful, it decreases the amount of uncertainty facing the engineers on Gateway

In fact, Jim Reuter, associate administrator for space technology at NASA, announced the CAPSTONE contract September 13th. “This mission is highly ambitious in both cost and schedule — and taking that deliberate risk is part of the objective of this mission — alongside the rapid technological advancement in cislunar navigation and the opportunity to verify orbital trajectory assumptions and retire unknowns for future missions,” he said. Essentially, in layman’s terms, he means this mission is critical to see if engineers working on Gateway have their maths right.

Getting CAPSTONE to the Moon

The statement says that NASA is looking at a few different options for getting the CubeSat into lunar orbit. Certainly, the tiny payload wouldn’t justify a $60-something-million ride on a Falcon 9 wouldn’t be justified all by itself. However, that doesn’t mean SpaceX, Virgin Space, Blue Origin, or Boeing won’t provide the transportation as part of a different mission. Let’s just hope they don’t buy it a ticket on another Russian rocket. We need to stop doing that.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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