The NASA CAPSTONE Mission

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Courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (Flickr CC0)

A small satellite is set to do something much bigger. What is that bigger thing? A complete lunar space station. On Monday, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite from NASA is set to launch. It will then travel to a special lunar orbit on a pathfinder assignment for the NASA program Artemis. The program is looking to bring humans back to the moon later on.

CAPSTONE is riding on the Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. They will be taking off from the NASA Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab was in the paper in May when they used a helicopter to intercept a booster rocket that was falling.

NASA CAPSTONE Mission Details

The launch is set for 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time on June 27. There will be live coverage that will begin one hour before the launch. Also, you can find the stream on NASA’s website or app.

About seven days into the mission with CAPSTONE, the journey of the probe will be visible through the eyes of NASA on the Solar System 3D visualization.

The CAPSTONE adventure will shoot a satellite the size of a microwave to a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) that goes around the Moon. It will be the first to move its way through this different lunar orbit and test it for the Lunar Gateway that is planned. The gateway is a little space station that is supposed to allow to sustain human life on the Moon.

NASA
Courtesy of Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño (Flickr CC0)

NRHO is unique as it is where the gravitational pull from Earth and Moon link. Then, the orbit will keep the craft in a “gravitational sweet spot” going around the moon, theoretically, NASA explained. Therefore, NRHO is ideal as it will not use as much fuel as standard orbits and will let the suggested lunar space station to keep up a consistent line of contact with Earth. However, before NASA makes its Gateway in the highly tense orbit, they will use CAPSTONE.

Also, the CAPSTONE is owned and functioned by Advanced Space which is based in Colorado to test models for orbit.

How The CubeSat Will Travel

The Electron Rocket’s upper part will let go of the CAPSTONE satellite six days after launch for the Moon journey. Then the 25-kilogram CubeSat will continue on for the rest of the mission alone. The remainder of the mission is four months long. Upon arrival on the Moon, the satellite will test the dynamics of the orbit for nearly six months. Also, it will be used to evaluate craft-to-craft navigating technology as well as one-way capabilities that might reduce the demand for spacecraft communication with Earth NASA staff in the future. Furthermore, it will wait to relay signals from other crafts.

NASA is throwing together the parts for their planned trip to the Moon methodically. Furthermore, the fourth rehearsal of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) went off without a hitch. The practice paved the road for a launch near the end of August, maybe.

Written by Marrissa Kay

Sources:

Gizmodo: NASA Hopes to Launch a Very Special Microwave-Sized Satellite on Monday [Updated]; by Passant Rabie
Space: NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat launch to the moon delayed again for systems checks; by Tariq Malik
The New York Time: NASA’s Return to the Moon Starts With Launching a 55-Pound Cube; by Kenneth Chang

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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