NASA’s Capstone Lunar Mission Launches Later This Month

NASA’s Capstone Lunar Mission Launches Later This Month

NASA is set to launch its “CAPSTONE” spacecraft mission later this month to orbit the moon, in preparation for a new lunar space station.

The craft, which is about the size of a microwave oven and weighs just 55 pounds, will take off from the Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand, between June 13 and 22.

It will test the stability of a halo-shaped orbit around the moon before it is used by Lunar Gateway, NASA’s planned lunar outpost.

Lunar Gateway will one day serve as a “staging area” for landing humans on the Moon and potentially as a jumping off point for missions to Mars.

Pictured is an artist's impression of CAPSTONE orbiting the moon with Earth in the background.  The spacecraft is expected to launch this month, between June 13 and June 22

Pictured is an artist’s impression of CAPSTONE orbiting the moon with Earth in the background. The spacecraft is expected to launch this month, between June 13 and June 22

CAPSTONE above the lunar North Pole: After landing on the moon, the craft will begin a six-month mission to validate a special type of orbit

CAPSTONE above the lunar North Pole: After landing on the moon, the craft will begin a six-month mission to validate a special type of orbit

CAPSTONE: Key Statistics

Type: CubeSat

Cut: 13 x 13 x 25 inches

lester: 55 pounds

Orbit: Orbit close to the rectilinear halo (NRHO)

launch site: Mahia, New Zealand

Release date: June 13-22, 2022

CAPSTONE’s launch has been postponed again this week to “no earlier than June 13”, after previously being set for June 6.

Previously, the mission was scheduled for May 31, before being pushed back for undisclosed reasons.

Rocket Lab, which will launch the satellite into space on its Electron rocket, said on Twitter this extra time was needed “to support final launch and Photon readiness checks.”

When it’s finally ready, the tiny satellite will blast off from Rocket Lab’s Māhia Peninsula launch site on New Zealand’s North Island.

CAPSTONE stands for “Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment”.

It is unique in that it will move in an elongated halo-shaped orbit, bringing it 1,000 miles closer and up to 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.

It will use its propulsion system to travel for about three to four months before entering orbit around the moon. An orbit will occur every seven days.

While it usually takes a spacecraft a few days to reach the moon, CAPSTONE will take much longer as it travels at a slower speed and has to take a longer route to prepare for an unusual oval shape.

The American company Rocket Lab will send the CAPSTONE satellite into space on its Electron rocket (photo)

The American company Rocket Lab will send the CAPSTONE satellite into space on its Electron rocket (photo)

CAPSTONE will blast off on Rocket Lab's Electron rocket from the company's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand

CAPSTONE will blast off on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand

Rocket Lab said on Twitter this week that more time was needed

Rocket Lab said on Twitter this week that additional time was needed “to support final launch and photon readiness checks.”

NASA will miss its target moon landing date by ‘several YEARS’, surveillance report says

A report by NASA’s inspector general said the US space agency will miss its goal of landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by ‘several years’, just days after pushing back its original target date to 2025 , citing cost overruns and lawsuits.

“Given the time required to fully develop and test the HLS and new spacesuits, we expect NASA to exceed its current schedule for landing humans on the Moon by the end of 2024 by several years,” the IG wrote in his report.

The report also notes that NASA does not correctly estimate all costs of the Artemis program and could spend up to $93 billion between fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2025, taking into account the $25 billion needed for the missions beyond Artemis III.

‘Without capturing, accurately reporting and reducing the cost of future [Space Launch System]/Orion, the Agency will face significant challenges in sustaining its Artemis program in its current configuration,” the report added.

The oddly shaped orbit, officially called the Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), has never been tried in space before.

The orbit route is located at a precise balance point in the gravities of the Earth and the Moon, which means that less energy is expended.

“The stability of this orbit will allow CAPSTONE to behave almost as if it’s being held in place by Earth and Moon gravity,” Elwood Agasid of NASA’s Ames Research Center told The Next Web.

“It requires little energy to maintain position or to maneuver into other cislunar orbits [those between the earth and the moon].’

CAPSTONE will orbit this area around the moon for at least six months to understand “orbit characteristics”, according to NASA.

The space agency said: “It will validate power and propulsion requirements to maintain orbit as predicted by NASA models, reducing logistical uncertainties.”

“It will also demonstrate the reliability of innovative solutions for navigation between spacecraft as well as communication capabilities with Earth.”

The first parts of the Lunar Gateway aren’t expected to launch until November 2024 at the earliest, which will give NASA plenty of time to evaluate CAPSTONE results.

Described as a “vital component of NASA’s Artemis program, the Lunar Gateway will be a small space station orbiting the moon, acting as a ‘multipurpose outpost’.

The official word is that NASA’s Artemis program will land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2025, although that could be pushed back, NASA Investigator General Paul Martin recently suggested.

The Lunar Gateway, pictured here above the moon in an artist's impression, is described as a 'lifeblood' of NASA's Artemis program

The Lunar Gateway, pictured here above the moon in an artist’s impression, is described as a ‘lifeblood’ of NASA’s Artemis program

NASA’s original date to land humans on the moon again was 2024, but last year it delayed the date, largely due to a dispute with Amazon founder Blue Origin. Jeff Bezos.

Also this year, NASA will send mannequins into space as part of the Artemis I mission in August 2022.

Artemis I will pave the way for crewed flights – Artemis II, which will launch in May 2024 and fly close to the moon without landing there, and Artemis III, which will actually land on the lunar surface.

Artemis III, which will be launched “at the earliest in 2025”, will be the first to land humans on the Moon in more than 50 years, since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

NASA’S LUNAR GATE: A VITAL PART OF THE ARTEMIS PROGRAM

NASA is working on a project to build the first lunar space station, codenamed Lunar Gateway, as as part of a long-term project to send humans to Mars.

The crew-occupied spaceport will orbit the moon and serve as a “gateway to deep space and the lunar surface,” NASA said.

The first modules of the station could be completed as early as 2024.

An international base for lunar exploration for humans and robots and a stopover for spacecraft is a prime candidate to succeed the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS), the world’s largest space project nowadays.

Pictured: A diagram of the proposed Lunar Gateway space station

Pictured: A diagram of the proposed Lunar Gateway space station

NASA’s next Artemis missions aim to send the first crewed mission to the Moon since 1972 “no sooner than 2025”.

It was originally in 2024, but costs and litigation from Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin forced NASA to postpone that for a year.

Eventually, NASA is looking to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.

The space agency hopes this colony will discover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advances, and lay the groundwork for private companies to build a lunar economy.

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