Science

NASA’s CAPSTONE launch to the moon has been delayed – the spacecraft will be the first to fly a unique lunar orbit

Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket
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Rocket Lab's electron rocket

Rocket Lab’s Elektron rocket sits on the pad at the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a wet dress rehearsal before CAPSTONE launch. Photo credit: Rocket Lab

NASA C.APSTONE Mission

Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus will deliver CAPSTONE into a trajectory toward the Moon. Credit: Illustration by NASA/Daniel Rutter

CAPSTONE, which stands for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, will be the first spacecraft to fly a specific unique lunar orbit ahead of future missions with crew.

The destination for this microwave oven-size CubeSat is a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). That same orbit is planned for Gateway, a multipurpose outpost for long-term lunar missions as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

Installing Solar Panels Onto CAPSTONE Spacecraft

Team members install solar panels onto the CAPSTONE spacecraft – short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – at Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., in Irvine, California. Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

Six days after launch, the Photon upper stage will release CAPSTONE into space for the first portion of the spacecraft’s solo flight. After a four-month journey to the Moon, CAPSTONE will test the dynamics of the NRHO for at least six months, helping reduce risk for future spacecraft. CAPSTONE will also demonstrate innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and one-way ranging capabilities that could help future spacecraft fly near the Moon with reduced need for communication with Earth.

CAPSTONE is commercially owned and operated by Advanced Space in Westminster, Colorado, on behalf of NASA. It represents an innovative collaboration between NASA and industry to provide rapid results and feedback to inform future exploration and science missions. Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, of Irvine, California, built the spacecraft. The mission also includes contributions from Stellar Exploration Inc., Space Dynamics Lab, Tethers Unlimited Inc., and Orion Space Systems.

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