NASA Begins Its Return to the Moon With Capstone Launch
Since the 1960’s Americans have been fascinated with space and what lies beyond our own planet. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon in 1969, our dream of traveling beyond Earth was realized. However, the moon landing missions ceased in 1972 due to how expensive it was to travel to the moon. Now, we want to return to the moon, and on June 28, 2022, NASA and Rocket Lab took the first step towards getting us there by launching the Electron Rocket and CAPSTONE.
What Is CAPSTONE?
CAPSTONE, an acronym for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is a microwave oven-sized spacecraft that is designed to collect data in order to verify that a specific type of moon orbit fits the lunar Gateway space station. NASA intends to launch it later in the decade and it will support NASA’s Artemis program and their efforts to return to the moon. While the Gateway mission is not contingent on the data that CAPSTONE will collect, the data will help the agency to have actual data to support their orbital calculations. Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket carries a unique version of its Photon Satellite platform, which carries CAPSTONE and will send it on a trajectory towards its lunar orbit. It will take about four months for CAPSTONE to reach its targeted orbit, and will need to maintain its orbit for at least six months to allow NASA to collect the necessary data.
Why Is This Important?
Not only does this mission mark the beginning of humanity’s return to the moon, but it is also Rocket Lab’s first launch into deep space, making this a momentous occasion for the company. In addition to Rocket Lab, NASA also partnered with Advanced Space, a company that designed and will operate Capstone, as well as Terran Orbital and Stellar Exploration, who built Capstone and its propulsion system. This partnership amongst US companies not only helps the country’s economy but also represents a domestic advancement in science. NASA’s partnership with smaller American businesses helps those companies achieve new milestones and drives the need for domestic spacecraft and engineering. “CAPSTONE is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for NASA’s ambitious plans to explore the Moon and beyond,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what CAPSTONE will do once it arrives at the Moon.”
NASA, the companies they partnered with, and the rest of the space community are excited to see CAPSTONE reach its targeted orbit and collect the data needed in order to get the Gateway mission underway. You can follow along the spacecraft’s journey with NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization.