NASA’s Capstone CubeSat, sent into space last week by Rocket Lab on an Electron rocket, broke from its orbit around Earth and headed for the Moon. The satellite should reach the moon by November.
The rocket was launched on June 28 from the Rocket Labs launch pad in New Zealand. Over the past six days, the rocket has performed several ignition maneuvers. The last of these had to send a rocket stage with a 25kg satellite to the moon, and it succeeded. “It’s a project that has taken us about two and a half years and has been incredibly difficult to implement.” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told Andhra News† “So it’s absolutely amazing to see that spacecraft on its way to the moon.”
NASA wants to put a space station around the moon as part of the Artemis mission. That space station, the lunar gateway, was to eventually become a base for sending humans to the lunar surface. That’s why a capstone is such an important first step. It is sent to a near-rectilinear halo orbit; The Lunar Gateway will eventually fly in the same elliptical orbit around the Moon. No spacecraft has ever entered that orbit. If the rest of the mission is successful, the Capstone satellite will transmit vital information, such as how much fuel is needed to keep a spacecraft in orbit, for several months.
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