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NASA re-establishes contact with tiny satellite on way to moon orbit

The microwave oven-sized Capstone satellite is part of a big plan.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is back in touch with a microwave oven-sized satellite headed moonward. 

Mission operators lost contact with Capstone Tuesday as the $32.7 million satellite made its way toward the moon, where it would be the first spacecraft to try out a new oval orbit. 

After one successful communication and a second partial one on Monday, the space agency said it could no longer communicate with the spacecraft called Capstone. Engineers were trying to find the cause of the communications drop-off and are optimistic they can fix it, NASA spokesperson Sarah Frazier said Tuesday.

NASA said late Wednesday morning that mission operators had re-established communication with Capstone. More information would be available soon, the agency said. 

The spacecraft, which launched from New Zealand on June 28, had spent nearly a week in Earth orbit and had been successfully kick-started on its way to the moon, when contact was lost, Frazier said.

The 55-pound satellite is the size of a microwave oven and will be the first spacecraft to try out what's formally called a "near rectilinear halo orbit." NASA wants to stage its Gateway outpost in this orbit, serving as a staging point for astronauts before they descend to the lunar surface.

The egg-shaped orbit balances the gravities of Earth and the moon and so requires little maneuvering and therefore fuel and allows the satellite — or a space station — to stay in constant contact with Earth. If Capstone's mission is successful, it will send back vital information on the orbit for months. 

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