Space radio built at USU is now orbiting the Moon

Nov 30, 2022, 3:21 PM | Updated: 3:26 pm
Space Dynamics Laboratory CAPSTONE CubeSat...
NORTH LOGAN, Utah, Nov. 30, 2022 – A deep space radio built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University is operating successfully onboard a NASA CubeSat technology demonstration mission to support Gateway, a vital component of NASA’s Artemis program. (Credits: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter)
(Credits: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter)

NORTH LOGAN, Utah — A deep space radio named Iris, built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University, has been in lunar orbit since Nov. 13.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, is enclosed in a NASA CubeSat that was on the Artemis rocket when it launched from the Kennedy Space Center on November 16.

The CubeSat supports Gateway which is a part of the Artemis program. A news release from the Space Dynamics Lab said CAPSTONE is the first CubeSat to orbit the Moon.

Tim Neilsen, SDL’s CAPSTONE program manager said, “Preliminary telemetry received from the spacecraft following its insertion into a lunar orbit indicates that the Iris Radio is healthy and operating nominally.”

CAPSTONE revealed in sunlight

NORTH LOGAN, Utah, Nov. 30, 2022 –CAPSTONE revealed in lunar Sunrise The CAPSTONE mission will demonstrate an innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation solution at the Moon from a near rectilinear halo orbit slated for Artemis’ Gateway. (Credits: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter)

The Iris Radio is a critical link for the CubeSat and mission control on Earth. The release said SDL designed and manufactured the CAPSTONE Iris Radio to operate in the extreme temperatures and radiation environment experienced in lunar orbit.

The CubeSat is about the size of a microwave oven. Its mission is to help keep the spacecraft at a specific area in the gravities of Earth and the Moon the release explained.

The IRIS technology has become much smaller over the years, and better.

“You couldn’t pack so much technology into such a small cube here. But with this, we’re able to send a large volume of data down to the ground,” Neilsen told KSL in August.

One of those satellites will help look for evidence of water and another will map the moon’s craters.

CAPSTONE CubeSat is a pathfinder mission for the Lunar Gateway according to the news release. Gateway is part of NASA’s Artemis to use the Moon’s surface as a base for deep space exploration.

“The significant increase in small satellites such as CAPSTONE being used for deep space missions necessitates robust and reliable communications systems like the Iris Radio, which can transmit data to NASA’s Deep Space Network and other international ground networks,” Neilsen said. “The CAPSTONE Iris Radio will also perform ranging functions to help the spacecraft navigate around its new orbit. SDL builds and tests Iris Radio technology in our NASA-certified facilities, and we are proud to support this important pathfinder mission for the Lunar Gateway and Artemis program.”

The design for the Iris Radio originated at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 2016 SDL took over the continued development of the project.

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Space radio built at USU is now orbiting the Moon