$30 Million NASA Capsule Tumbles Out of Control During Journey to the Moon

by Taylor Cunningham

NASA‘s $30 million CAPSTONE capsule is currently having a “dynamic operational situation” and is tumbling out of control as it attempts to approach the moon.

The miniature probe, which only weighs 55 pounds, had an unknown “emergency” that forced it into “safe mode” on Sept 8, according to mission team members. The glitch then caused CAPSTONE to lose control leaving the operations team desperate to find a solution while sitting in Colorado, over 100,000 miles away.

“The vehicle was attempting to communicate with the ground for approximately 24 hours before any telemetry was recovered,” they said. “At the point of recovery, the spacecraft was not in a stable configuration, it was not power positive. And the system was experiencing periodic resets.”

On Monday (Sept. 12), Advanced Space, the company that is running the CAPSTONE mission for NASA gave an update.

Since the issue became apparent, team members have been working nonstop to find a solution. And they have made some headway. Most importantly, they’ve managed to regain some control by reconfiguring the “operational state.” And though CAPSTONE previously had issues generating power from its solar panels, it is back on line and power positive.

However, the NASA capsule is still having temperature issues and continues to tumble in space. Advanced Space is currently preparing for a “detumble” operation that will hopefully regain control of the craft.

“A successful detumble will result in the vehicle resuming control of its orientation, orienting the solar panels to the sun to fully charge the batteries of the power used during the detumble,” the update continues. “The spacecraft will then orient to the ground and await further instructions. These recovery operations will be further evaluated over the coming days.”

This is the Second Time the NASA Moon Probe Has Malfunctioned

This is the second major issue that CAPSTONE has suffered since its launch atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster on June 28. When the probe separated from the rocket on July 4, it went dark, meaning the team lost communication. The following day, members learned the issue came from an improperly entered command and fixed the problem.

CAPSTONE is headed to a lunar near rectilinear halo orbit ( NRHO ), which is where NASA hopes to open its Gateway space station in the future. If the tiny probe reaches its destination, it will verify the stability of NRHO and also run some navigation and communications experiments.

If all goes as planned, the spacecraft will reach its destination on Nov 13. An engine burn the day before the “anomaly” should help the team meet its deadline.