A tiny satellite is poised to set the stage for something much bigger: a full-fledged lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit in a pathfinder mission for the Artemis programattempting to return humans to the moon later this decade.
KEYSTONE hitchhiking aboard Rocket Lab’s Elektron rocket, which will lift off from private company Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May when it used a helicopter to capture a falling launch vehicle. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch on June 27 at 6:00 p.m. ET, with live coverage beginning an hour earlier. You can follow the action in the agency website or apartmentor you can watch it in the live feed below.
About a week after the start of the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s journey will be provided by NASA eyes on the solar system interactive real-time 3D data visualization.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will launch a microwave-sized satellite into a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the moon. The satellite will be the first to cross its path around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for what is planned moongatea small space station designed to allow for a permanent human presence on the moon.
NRHO is special in that the gravity of the moon and earth interact there; This orbit will theoretically keep the spacecraft in a near-stable orbit around the moon in a “gravitational sweet spot.” according to to NASA. NRHO is therefore ideal in that it requires less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a constant line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its Gateway in this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE — owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space — to test its orbital models.
Six days after launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the moon. The 55-pound (25-pound) Cubesat will then solo the remainder of its four-month journey. Once on the moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and one-way ranging measurements, which could ultimately reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals from other spacecraft to be relayed.
NASA is methodically putting the pieces together for the agency’s planned return to the moon. That The fourth and final wet dress rehearsal of the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) went wellwhich paves the way for a possible launch in late August.