Monday will see RocketLab’s Electron rocket launch window remain open until June 22, which will allow for a small spacecraft to be launched on a critical NASA mission to orbit Moon.
After several delays, the tiny cubesat (about the size of an oven) will launch as the Cislunar Automatic Positioning System Technology Operations & Navigation Experiment ( CAPSTONE).
The CAPSTONE mission will be the pathfinder for two important NASA spaceflight missions, the Lunar Gateway space station (and the Artemis program for crewed slights to Moon’s surface), by entering an entirely new and never attempted before elliptical orbital route around the Moon.
From where CAPSTONE willlaunch
RocketLab will launch CAPSTONE from its Electron rocket and Photon satellites from its LC-1B launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Follow RocketLab’s Twitter account to receive updates and possibly more delays on launch times.
When CAPSTONE launches
Launch window opening June 25, 2022 Each day, the target lift-off time for each launch window will change by several minutes.
CAPSTONE’s journey of four months
After six days on a low-Earth orbit, starting at 102 miles/165 km up and gradually rising to 37,000 miles/59,000.500 kilometers, CAPSTONE will propel itself towards the Moon at 24,500mph/39.500 km/h.
It will take CAPSTONE 4 months to reach its bizarre orbit. It first reaches an altitude 810,000 miles/1.3 Million kilometers above the Earth, far beyond the Moon. Then it is pulled back towards the Moon.
What CAPSTONE can do
CAPSTONE will measure the stability of a new orbit around Moon. It’s also known as the nearrectilinear orbit. It’s an elliptical oval-shaped, elliptical orbit that lies at the exact balance point between the Moon and Earth’s gravities. The orbit will place CAPSTONE within 1,000 m of the nearest lunar pole and 43,500 m from the other at its peak every seven day.
NASA plans to use the orbit for its Lunar Gateway station. It intends to assemble the station over the next few decades to support its Artemis crewed landings at the Moon.
This unique orbit provides a clear view of Earth as well as good coverage of the lunar South Pole. Artemis III will be landing two astronauts there in 2024/2025. The goal is to eventually build a lunar base.
Elwood Agasid (deputy program manager for Small Spacecraft Technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley), stated that “CAPSTONE” will be controlled precisely and maintained. He also said that the spacecraft will greatly benefit from the near-rectilinear physics of its halo orbit. “The spacecraft will get an extra boost from the burns as it builds momentum naturally. This requires less fuel than a circular orbit would.
Cubesat will also show a new navigation system, which would allow spacecraft to locate themselves relative to the Moon using satellites without having to rely on ground stations on Earth.
Agasid stated that Gateway can use this orbit to communicate with future Artemis missions on the lunar surface and back to Earth. This could open up new possibilities for future lunar science exploration and research efforts.
I wish you clear skies, and big eyes.