Launched from New Zealand on June 28, NASA’s Capstone satellite was successful in breaking out of Earth’s orbit this Monday (4) to head towards its final destination: lunar orbit.
The equipment is part of the mission that plans to take astronauts back to the moon.
Capstone will explore a new lunar orbit, called Halo, which has a more straight and oval path. The importance of testing this path is that it reduces fuel usage and allows the satellite (or a future space station) to be in more stable contact with Earth.
Capstone is slated to arrive there in November. That’s because it travels through space with low energy expenditure, using its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to travel the rest of the way.
A nice money saver
The project provides a new point of view in space explorations because of the low cost. NASA invested $32.7 million. And that can make room for more successful missions later on without having to spend billions.
Capstone is the size of a microwave and weighs about 25 kilograms. It was launched out of Earth by the Rocket Lab company, mounted on one of their small rockets, the Electron.
Another NASA partner is the American Advanced Space, owner and operator of the satellite.
“Capstone is a trailblazer in many ways and will demonstrate diverse technological capabilities over the course of its mission, as it navigates a never-before flown orbit around the moon,” said Elwood Agasid, Capstone Project Manager at the Research Center at NASA.
From the moon to deep space
“That’s a small step for man, but a giant leap for humanity.” The popular phrase spoken by Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon in 1969, still echoes in history. Since then, humanity has not returned in person there. And this is one of NASA’s great ambitions today.
Capstone is part of the Artemis Program, a manned spaceflight project developed by NASA. It is providing one of the databases for the construction of the Gateway, an outpost in orbit around the Moon, which will provide support for the return of astronauts to the lunar surface. The station will also serve as a starting point for deep space exploration.
During its journey, Capstone also promises to provide important information to leverage NASA’s later launch technology. One of them is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, which will allow spacecraft to better understand their position in space, without relying exclusively on tracking on Earth.