Orion’s Chip Scale Atomic Clock provides critical positioning and tracking data for the CAPSTONE Moon Mission
Louisville, CO, July 18, 2022—NASA launched its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) on June 28, as a part of the Artemis program, to study a specific orbit for the future Gateway lunar station. Led by Advanced Space, this mission is test driving orbital analysis that will enable NASA’s future exploration efforts. Orion Space Solutions (OSS) provides a critical satellite component that will support mission success.
Space systems need reliable timing information when flying beyond well-understood orbits, into regions where GPS and other communication signals lose contact with Earth-based systems or control centers. Lacking the information provided by these standard communications, mission operators lose positioning and navigation knowledge and capabilities. The longer a system goes without updated information, the more likely it can drift away from its intended trajectory, resulting in higher potential for mission error or risk.
To address this problem, OSS engineers developed the Chip Scale Atomic Clock, or CSAC, as an important part of the CAPSTONE experiment. CSAC is a precision clock able to provide critical positioning and timing data while the small satellite is in the near-rectilinear halo orbit, which is the planned orbit for the Gateway station to the moon on its future lunar mission. The low size, weight, and power of the CSAC system means it is easily integrated into CubeSats and other small satellites. Several OSS space-based programs use CSAC, giving the equipment flight-proven status.
“OSS engineers and scientists develop space solutions that work,” says Mr. Erik Stromberg, OSS Senior Director of Special Programs. “With humans returning to the moon, CSAC’s ability to maintain positioning and timing data for any potential dropouts in signal are essential contributions to keeping astronauts and satellites safe for programs, such as CAPSTONE.”
“CSAC will provide reliable timing information to maintain a highly accurate positioning indicator for when systems have a loss of communication or positioning for the CAPSTONE mission. While the halo orbit will not put the spacecraft behind the moon, allowing for stable communication back to Earth, no spacecraft has ever operated in the designated orbit for this mission before,” explains Mr. Gerald Thompson, Senior VP of Strategy.
CAPSTONE is set to arrive at the moon in November, when it will begin its 6-month long primary mission.