The launch of CAPSTONE was a key step for the human being to return to the Moon. and we have given

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NASA continues its preparations for the Artemis program, which should return humans to our satellite within this decade. To pave the way for future missions, the space agency, in collaboration with the company Rocket Lab, released on tuesday from New Zealand the CAPSTONE mission, in charge of verifying the route and the orbit in which the future Gateway lunar orbital station will be located.

A key mission for the future.
The name of the mission CAPSTONE, refers to the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. The probe is a small satellite of 25 kg and the size of a microwave oven whose purpose will be to pave the way for the Artemis missions.

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Five goals.
This mission, “prequel” to Artemis is divided into five goals according to NASA. The first will be to verify the NRHO orbit (for near rectilinear halo orbit), an orbit that forms a sharp ellipse perpendicular to the Moon-Earth axis. The advantage of this orbit is that in it the spacecraft never loses sight of the Earth, which facilitates communications. This orbit will bring the spacecraft closer to just under 1,600 kilometers from the lunar north pole and about 70,000 kilometers from the satellite’s south pole.

The mission will also serve to establish the most efficient route to enter this orbit and demonstrate communication between spacecraft to allow spacecraft to guide each other without constantly relying on ground control. NASA also notes that the mission, launched by the company Rocket Lab, will also serve as a basis for future commercial cooperation in lunar exploration and to gain experience in sending compact CubeSat satellites beyond low Earth orbit.

The launch.
The ship did not depart from the United States but from New Zealand, where Rocket Lab, the company that operates the electron rocketshas its Launch Complex 1. Although the rocket aboard which it travels, the Electron, has two stages, the mission incorporates a third phase, called Lunar Photon, to which the orbital vehicle is moored. This third phase will be responsible for propelling it from Earth orbit to the vicinity of the Moon. The vehicle and its cargo left on Tuesday at 11:55 p.m. local time (11:55 a.m. Spanish peninsular time).

The Electron rocket put the third stage and probe into low Earth orbit shortly after liftoff. During this week, the Lunar Photon rover’s engine will fire periodically to speed up and progressively move away from this orbit. At some point, it will insert the probe into a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory that will carry the CubeSat to our natural satellite. Once there, the satellite itself will take advantage of its own propulsion to, also assisted by the Sun’s gravity, place itself in its destination orbit.

This complex itinerary (as these maneuvers usually are) has the advantage of minimizing the amount of fuel needed to take the probe to its destination. NASA has made available to the most curious a digital model of our Solar System that includes in the path of this mission to be able to follow it live.

Why it is important to the Artemis program.
The mission is heading to our satellite in a difficult context due to the delays that the Artemis program has already accumulated. Development of the “mega rocket”, the SLS super-heavy vehicle, has progressed slowly. However, NASA is on the safe side and this mission should make it possible to study the most efficient way to reach the desired orbit.

This NRHO orbit will be used specifically by the lunar space station gateway. Gateway will be the orbital component of Artemis, an outpost supporting lunar missions. The station will have direct communication with the Earth at all times, thanks precisely to the orbit that CAPSTONE will be checking.

The new space race continues and cooperation is going to be vital. CAPSTONE will try to foster this collaboration between commercial agents and NASA for lunar exploration. The fact that the mission departed from New Zealand, a signatory country of the Artemis Agreements, also emphasizes this need for cooperation as a necessary strategy in space exploration.

Image | Rocket Lab, NASA

NASA continues its preparations for the Artemis program, which should return humans to our satellite within this decade. To pave…

NASA continues its preparations for the Artemis program, which should return humans to our satellite within this decade. To pave…

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