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At SciTech Daily: Rocket Lab Launches NASA’s CAPSTONE Mission to the Moon

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A cubesat the size of microwave oven launched to space on June 28 from New Zealand by commercial company Rocket Lab and their Electron rocket. The small satellite will conduct tests to ensure the unusual lunar orbit proposed for NASA’s future Lunar Gateway is actually stable.

ILLUSTRATION OF GATEWAY IN LUNAR ORBIT. THE GATEWAY IS CRITICAL TO SUSTAINABLE LUNAR EXPLORATION AND WILL SERVE AS A MODEL FOR FUTURE MISSIONS TO MARS. CREDIT: NASA

The Gateway is a lunar space station that will support NASA’s Artemis program to return to the Moon and enable future missions to Mars. The unique orbit, called a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), is an elongated polar orbit that brings a spacecraft within 1,600 km (1,000 miles) of one lunar pole on its near pass and 70,000 km (43,500 miles) from the other pole every seven days. Because the orbit uses a balance point in the gravities of the Earth and the Moon, it is theorized that spacecraft flying from this type of orbit will require less propulsion capability for traveling to and from the Moon’s surface than other circular orbits and requires minimal energy to maintain.

CAPSTONE’s main mission is to attempt to establish that this location in space provides a stable and ideal location for a space station, as well as a staging area for missions to the Moon and beyond.

The spacecraft is currently in low Earth orbit, and is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send CAPSTONE on its way to deep space. It will take about four months for it to reach the targeted lunar orbit.

“CAPSTONE is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for CAPSTONE at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “CAPSTONE is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

SciTech Daily

Everything about this mission is intelligently designed. (Or is it merely a result of the forces of nature acting on atoms produced in the big bang and supernovae?)

What do you think about plans for humans to further establish a presence in interplanetary space?

4 Replies to “At SciTech Daily: Rocket Lab Launches NASA’s CAPSTONE Mission to the Moon

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    It’s every Trekkies dream.

    A Moon base will be an extreme test of our ability to sustain such a facility under the harshest of conditions: for example, no electromagnetic or atmospheric protection against solar radiation, cosmic rays or meteorite bombardment and a lunar surface covered with a fine, abrasive dust that will play havoc with any machinery it gets into.

  2. 2
    relatd says:

    NASA has been planning this since 1960. I suspect the technology has improved since then.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    I would certainly hope so.

  4. 4
    Fasteddious says:

    Fascinating that they felt they needed to spend a lot of money to actually try it out before committing to something bigger. Surely their orbital modelling could tell them whether it is stable to several decimal places? But this would be the classical three-body problem in gravitational mechanics, which cannot be solved in closed form. But a detailed digital approximating model must surely exist to predict the orbit’s evolution over thousands of orbits to a reasonable degree of assurance? Perhaps there are other factors in play? E.g. non-spherical Earth, solar wind, moon’s surface features, Earth-moon orbital dynamics, etc.? One wonders how long they will wait for this satellite to follow this orbit before deciding whether it will work for something bigger.

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