NASA will send a tiny satellite into the orbit of the moon. What is it for?

Humanity is engaged in space exploration withvery ancient times, but a real breakthrough in this matter was made only in the second half of the 20th century. It was then that the first people were sent to space and space stations were invented, which move in the orbit of our planet and provide the astronauts with conditions for a long stay in space and for research. Now mankind needs to move on, therefore, already in 2020, the NASA space agency will begin developing the Gateway station for astronauts to live in orbit of the moon. To make sure that the lunar orbit chosen by scientists is safe for the station, 12 tiny satellites, called cubsats, will be engaged in its exploration.

Kubsat developed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems

The study of the lunar orbit is calledCAPSTONE and, if everything goes according to plan, it will be launched in December 2020. Just in the same year, NASA will begin assembling the Gateway station, which will help make the first moon landing in decades. Having landed on the satellite of our planet, mankind will be able to build a station on it, which will facilitate flights to other planets, such as Mars.

Cubs will go beyond the Earth's orbit

The development of cubesats, which arecubic blocks with 10-centimeter fins, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems will do. They will be equipped with communication systems and distance sensors - the space agency wants to figure out how to bring the future station onto the chosen trajectory. Cubsats have a rather complicated and important task, because they have to determine their location without relying on information from the Earth.

Be sure to read: How are the Cubsat (CubeSat) arranged?

Project management will be entrusted to the companyAdvanced Space, which, in particular, will study the Cubsat navigation system. For its work, the company asked NASA for as much as 13.7 million US dollars. The navigation system, by the way, is called CAPS - probably, now everyone understands why the mission is called CAPSTONE and nothing else.

Gateway Space Station Trajectory

The orbit in which space will moveGateway station, is a particularly elongated oval - the trajectory of the structure is shown in the picture below. Microwave-sized satellites will follow a similar path. According to scientists, at the point closest to the moon, the devices will be located only 1,600 kilometers from its surface. Moving away, tiny satellites will fly away from the moon at a distance of up to 70 thousand kilometers.

Gateway Space Station Orbit

How exactly will CAPSTONE Cubes besent towards the moon, while no one knows. Most likely, they will all be launched simultaneously, in the form of additional cargo sent to orbit as part of larger missions. For example, an agency may take them out while sending food and research equipment to the International Space Station.

By the way, the Gateway residential module already has a full-size prototype

Most likely, NASA decided to explore the trajectorythe movement of the Gateway orbital station using cubsats because of their ease of development and low cost. At the moment, thousands of compact satellites fly around our planet, but the cubsat left the earth’s orbit only once. They are the MarCO-A and MarCO-B, which went to Mars with the InSight lander.