Humanity has been exploring space since a very long time, 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.
The study of the lunar orbit was called CAPSTONE and, if everything goes according to plan, it will begin 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 are cubic blocks with 10-centimeter fins, will be undertaken by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. 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 Advanced 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 along which the Gateway space station will move is a particularly elongated oval – the trajectory of the structure is clearly 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.
How exactly CAPSTONE cubsats will be sent towards the Moon, while nobody 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 trajectory 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.