A tiny satellite is poised to set the stage for something far grander: a full-blown lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch on Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit in a pathfinder mission for the Artemis program, which is seeking to return humans to the Moon later this decade.
CAPSTONE is hitching a ride on board Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May by using a helicopter to catch a falling booster rocket. The CAPSTONE launch is scheduled for 6 a.m. ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can catch the action at the agency’s website or app, or you can watch it at the livefeed below.
Approximately one week into the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s journey will be made available through NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite to a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. The satellite will be the first to cruise its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it out for the planned Lunar Gateway, a small space station that is meant to allow for a sustained human presence on the Moon.
NRHO is special in that it’s where the pull of gravity from the Moon and Earth interact; this orbit will theoretically keep spacecraft in a “gravitational sweet spot” in a near-stable orbit around the Moon, according to NASA. NRHO is therefore ideal in that it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and it will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a…
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