Launch and space systems company Rocket Lab has announced it will launch NASA’s CAPSTONE mission to the Moon from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand during the final quarter of 2021.
CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment), which will aid NASA’s Artemis programme, is being overseen by Advanced Space LLC, a leading commercial space solutions company.
Launching on an Electron rocket and deploying from Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform, CAPSTONE is a 25 kilogram (55-pound satellite) CubeSat that will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit.
As a precursor for Gateway and other Artemis elements - an international and commercial Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis programme - CAPSTONE will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit.
The mission is the first time Rocket Lab will use its Photon spacecraft platform as a trans-lunar injection stage to place a satellite on a trajectory that will take it beyond Earth orbit to the Moon.
Advanced Space LLC, a leading commercial space solutions company, is overseeing the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), a NASA-supported mission to orbit the Moon.
Advanced Space is currently preparing for the launch by performing several Operations Readiness Tests (ORTs) that function as real-time mission simulations. The second ORT was successfully completed last week and demonstrated the unique capabilities of Advance Space to operate the mission as it targets its Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), an important and innovative lunar orbit planned for NASA’s Gateway lunar orbiting outpost.
The ORTs simulate critical launch and flight manoeuvres as well as allow for practice of various operational scenarios in the weeks leading up to launch. The navigation and manoeuvre design for the spacecraft after it separates from the launch vehicle will demonstrate the capabilities of the team at Advanced Space.
“This comprehensive readiness test illustrates the capabilities of our team to focus on mission execution in challenging environments and reinforces that our launch date is quickly approaching for this groundbreaking mission,” said CEO Bradley Cheetham.
“We are proud of this mission and grateful to NASA for its support. This mission really showcases the benefits of collaboration between NASA and industry.”
In partnership with NASA and others, CAPSTONE is expected to be the first CubeSat to fly in cislunar space as well as the first spacecraft to operate in an NRHO at the Moon, where it will follow a path around Earth that closely matches the Moon's orbit and provide an unobstructed view of Earth.
The constant view of Earth from the NRHO makes it an ideal orbit for NASA’s lunar Gateway – an outpost that is part of the Artemis missions that will establish a long-term presence at the Moon.
Operations in this challenging orbit have not been previously executed and the benefits of a rapid demonstration that acts as a pathfinder for Gateway and other Artemis missions led to this collaborative effort between NASA and commercial partners led by Advanced Space.