NASA's Moon-bound CAPSTONE spacecraft launching early next month
NASA and its partners Rocket Lab and Advanced Space are targeting June 6, 2022, for the launch of the Moon-bound Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission.
The wet dress rehearsal for the mission is now complete and payload integration is also getting underway, Rocket Lab said on Friday.
With wet dress rehearsal now complete and payload integration getting underway, we're targeting no earlier than June 6 UTC for the CAPSTONE launch! Final readiness checks are underway on the new systems for this mission, including our very first lunar Photon spacecraft 🛰 pic.twitter.com/EMUiG11nyD— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) May 20, 2022
The CAPSTONE mission will launch from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. The microwave oven-size spacecraft will fly in cislunar space - the orbital space near and around the Moon - to validate innovative navigation technologies and verify the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit, which will help reduce risk of future long-term deep space missions – like the Moon-orbiting outpost Gateway.
LAUNCH UPDATE: #CAPSTONE will be Moon-bound no earlier than June 6 UTC. @NASA, @AdvancedSpace, & @RocketLab continue to prepare for launch while conducting final mission readiness checks. Get the latest: https://t.co/BANcggYnsZ pic.twitter.com/QLgjTlloZO— NASA Ames (@NASAAmes) May 20, 2022
CAPSTONE will be the first spacecraft to test the dynamics of this special orbit, formerly called near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), once it arrives at the Moon following a four-month transit period. According to NASA, while this gravity-driven track takes longer to reach the Moon, it will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel this pathfinder CubeSat will need to fly there.
Key objectives of the CAPSTONE mission include:
- Verify the characteristics of a cis-lunar near rectilinear halo orbit for future spacecraft
- Demonstrate entering and maintaining this unique orbit that provides a highly-efficient path to the Moon's surface and back
- Demonstrate spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services that allow future spacecraft to determine their location relative to the Moon without relying exclusively on tracking from Earth
- Lay a foundation for commercial support of future lunar operations
- Gain experience with small dedicated launches of CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit, to the Moon, and beyond