NASA is launching a small spacecraft to test the planned orbit around the moon for its upcoming moongate.
Why it matters
Dubbed Capstone, the mission is an important step in returning astronauts to the lunar surface.
The spacecraft will spend the next four months reaching its unique lunar orbit.
NASA’s first lunar mission in nearly a decade is set to ainto space Tuesday, pave the way for in the coming years.
The little rocket will carry a so-called “CubeSat,” which is about the size of a microwave oven, weighs just 25 kilograms, and is called Capstone, which stands for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment.
Launch is now scheduled for Tuesday at 2:55 am PT from the Rocket Lab launch facility in New Zealand. You can watch the whole thing on NASA TV. The launch was originally scheduled for May 31, but has been delayed several times as the mission team continued to review and quadruple all of the various systems involved in bringing Capstone to the moon.
The compact spacecraft will test new navigation systems and test the halo-shaped orbit around the moon that will one day be occupied by NASA’s Lunar Gateway. The gateway will be a sort of small space station orbiting the moon and used as a staging for Artemis missions to the lunar surface.
The unique orbit has never been flown before and is based on balancing the gravity of the Earth and Moon. It allows for continuous communication with Earth as it orbits the moon.
“This orbit has the added benefit of giving Gateway optimal communications with future Artemis missions operating both on the lunar surface and back to Earth,” NASA’s Elwood Agasid said in a statement. “This could open up new possibilities for future lunar exploration and exploration efforts.” Agasid is Associate Program Manager for Small Spacecraft Technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Capstone will also test communications with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to demonstrate ways future lunar missions can potentially operate without relying so much on direct communications with Earth.
In addition to Rocket Lab, NASA is working on the mission with a handful of other private space companies, including Colorado-based Advanced Space, which built Capstone. Californian companies Terran Orbital and Stellar Exploration built the CubeSat platform and its propulsion system, respectively.