The venture Rocket Lab received a contract for the launch on behalf of NASA, a CubeSat for the CAPSTONE test. The ultimate objective of which is to position the CAPSTONE CubeSat in the cislunar region( between Earth and Moon) orbit, which is the same space orbit that NASA would ultimately use as its Moon-orbiting space station in the Gateway. The launch of the project is due for 2021.
Launch of CAPSTONE is to happen at the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, Rocket Lab’s latest launch Complex 2(LC-2). In December, Rocket Lab officially opened its launch pad and will begin its first flights using its on-site electric spacecraft later this year.
In several aspects, the launch is significant, including that of being only the second mission to the Moon, to depart from the Virginia terminal. This launch mission will also use the Photon platform of Rocket Lab, a satellite that can carry a range of payloads, which has been built and designed in-house. In this scenario, Photon would transport from the earth’s space to the Moon the CAPSTONE CubeSat, weighing only about 55 lbs, at a location where CAPSTONE would launch its very own small engines to its cislunar orbit, its main target.
Last year Rocket Lab unveiled Photon, stating at that moment that its purpose was to grant small satellites a much longer-scope delivery — including the Moon— in particular. That is one of the critical elements NASA will deliver while embarking on its Artemis initiative, which will carry human astronauts back into the lunar region by 2024 and will create a much more permanent human existence in readiness for future Mars missions, on and around the Moon.
CAPSTONE would play a crucial role in this task, playing the lunar portal that NASA plans to develop and launch eventually, as a “pathfinder.”
Marshall Smith, NASA Director of Human lunar exploration programs, said in a press release: “CAPSTONE, is a fast, risk-tolerant illustration that aims to get to know more about the peculiar seven-day cislunar orbit. We are also seeking for Gateway purposes.” The news goes into detail: “To focus on this data alone, we can not rely on this precursor data, but rather can eliminate navigational uncertainty before our future missions by using a single lunar orbit.”The launch deal has a fixed cost of 9.95 million dollars with Rocket Lab, according to the agency. NASA expects to begin the design of the CAPSTONE spacecraft under contractors Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems before its 2021 launch.