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NASA loses contact with CAPSTONE lunar orbiter after leaving Earth orbit

Undated photo of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket sits on the pad at the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for wet dress rehearsal ahead of the CAPSTONE launch. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab
Undated photo of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket sits on the pad at the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for wet dress rehearsal ahead of the CAPSTONE launch. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab

July 5 (UPI) -- NASA lost communication with its CAPSTONE orbiter after it deployed Monday, the space agency said in a statement Tuesday.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, orbiter left low Earth orbit on its way to the moon Monday when it "experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network," NASA said in a statement.

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"The spacecraft team currently is working to understand the cause and re-establish contact. The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network," the agency added.

NASA noted that the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post-separation trajectory correction measure for several days, if needed.

RELATED NASA, Rocket Lab launch orbiter to help pave way for astronauts' return to moon

The CAPSTONE is attached to Rocket Lab's Photon upper stage, which maneuvered the orbiter into position for its journey to the moon.

The Photon engine gradually increased its orbit over six days to 810,000 miles from Earth and released the CAPSTONE CubeSat on its trajectory to the moon on Monday.

The spacecraft now is being controlled by teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital.

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NASA said CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the sun's gravity to navigate the rest of the way on a four-month journey to the moon, where it will then go into a near rectilinear halo orbit Nov. 13.

The spacecraft will act as a pathfinder for the moon-orbiting outpost, named Gateway, that eventually is to support the long-term human return to the lunar surface.

The mission is part of NASA's 21st-century moon program named for Artemis, who in Greek mythology was a twin sister of Apollo. The program aims to return humans to the moon in 2024, more than half a century since the last Apollo moon landing.

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The unmanned lunar orbiter lifted off from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula last week.

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