A lot of Moon missions, from both reputable space organizations and commercial companies, were expected in 2022. However, a large number of planned launches have not taken place, thus NASA’s CAPSTONE is given the distinction of being the first moonshot to actually launch this year. Its name is a mouthful in the old tradition of NASA missions, but it has been shortened to a catchier abbreviation. A modest CubeSat the size of a microwave, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, has grand ambitions.
CAPSTONE is a pathfinder for the highly anticipated NASA Lunar Gateway, a space station that will circle the Moon and serve as an outpost to assist the Artemis missions as well as maybe one day serve as a gateway to Mars. In addition to putting certain cutting-edge navigational technology to the test, Gateway will use it to evaluate the viability of mathematical models for the first spacecraft to ever fly in this peculiar halo-shaped orbit.
As so beautifully stated by NASA: “It will have balance. Poise. Balance. This pathfinding CubeSat will essentially be able to relax in a gravitational sweet spot where the Moon’s and Earth’s gravitational pulls interact to create a nearly stable orbit, letting physics handle the bulk of the work of maintaining it in orbit around the Moon. The space agency and a private aerospace business joined together to create CAPSTONE, which is commercially owned by Advanced Space in Colorado. It was carried into space by a different private business rocket, this one coming from Rocket Lab, the company famous for using a helicopter to retrieve a falling rocket in the air.
On the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, the US-New Zealand Corporation Rocket Lab has its own launch facility. This morning at 5 am ET, its Electron rocket launched the little CubeSat that could (9 am UTC). Beyond low-Earth orbit, this was Rocket Lab’s first deep space mission. CAPSTONE was a successful dry run because the business is really preparing its own voyage to Venus utilizing its Electron boosters.
“Flawless launch of an electron! Low Earth Orbit is where the lunar photon is “Peter Beck, the creator of Rocket Lab, tweeted. CAPSTONE is currently under route to test the novel lunar orbit, paving the path for upcoming Artemis missions that will bring people back to the Moon’s surface.