Rocket Lab to Launch NASA-Funded Lunar Trade Mission from New Zealand



LONG BEACH, Calif .– (COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Rocket Lab, the leading space launch and systems company, today announced that it will launch the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand starting in the fourth quarter of 2021. It will be the first launch of Rocket Lab to the Moon. CAPSTONE (cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) helps NASA Artemis program, which includes landing the first woman and first person of color on the moon and establishing a long-term presence there.

Launched onto an Electron launcher and deployed from Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform, CAPSTONE is a 55-pound satellite created by Advanced Space that will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique elliptical lunar orbit. As a precursor to Gateway and other Artemis elements, an international and commercial lunar orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE will help reduce risks to future spacecraft by validating navigation technologies innovative and verifying the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit.

The mission is the first time that Rocket Lab will use its Photon spacecraft platform as a trans-lunar injection stage to place a satellite on a path that will take it beyond Earth’s orbit to the Moon. After taking off on Electron into an initial elliptical low Earth orbit, Photon will split up and use its 3D printed HyperCurie engine to provide propulsion into space to allow CAPSTONE to free itself from Earth’s gravity and head towards the Earth. Moon. After deploying the CAPSTONE satellite, Photon will continue on its own path to perform a lunar flyby, while CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion system to enter cislunar orbit.

After a three to four month trip to the Moon, the CAPSTONE CubeSat will enter a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), which is a highly elliptical orbit above the Moon’s poles. During its main six-month moon orbit mission, CAPSTONE will validate the propulsion requirements to maintain this type of orbit as predicted by the models, thereby reducing logistical uncertainties for future missions. It will also test the accuracy of innovative spacecraft navigation solutions and demonstrate the commercial support capabilities of future lunar missions. The NRHO offers the benefit of a breathtaking view of Earth in addition to coverage of the lunar South Pole.

Originally scheduled for takeoff from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 in Virginia, the CAPSTONE mission will now take place from Launch Complex 1 to support a launch window in the fourth quarter.

“Flexible is not a word commonly used to describe lunar missions, but operating two launch complexes gives us the freedom to select a site that best meets the mission’s requirements and schedule,” said the CEO of Rocket Lab, Mr. Peter Beck. “Our team is extremely proud to launch one of the first orientation missions to support NASA’s goal of ensuring a durable and robust presence on the Moon. We have teamed up with the NASA Launch Services Program on previous Electron missions in Low Earth Orbit, so it’s exciting to work with them again to go a little further than usual… some 380,000 km further away.

Advanced Space of Colorado, one of the leading commercial space solutions companies, owns the satellite and operates the mission. The development of CAPSTONE is supported by the NASA Space Technology Missions Directorate through the Small Spacecraft Technology Program at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. Advanced Exploration Systems within NASA’s Exploration and Human Operations Mission Directorate supports launch and mission operations. NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for managing launches.

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