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NASA's CAPSTONE Cubesat Mission

Updated: Aug 3

The arduous and landmark-creating voyage to the moon for the NASA spacecraft known as CAPSTONE has finally started. The cubesat, which weighed in at 55 pounds, was sent into space on June 28 atop a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. The launch took place from the company's Launch Facility 1, which is located on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

Bradley Smith, head of NASA's Space Launch Office, who was there for the nighttime moonshot, said that the launch went off without a hitch and was simply great. The CAPSTONE spacecraft is now on its way to the moon, where it could conduct an investigation of the reliability of the orbit that NASA intends to use for the Gateway space station.

However, it won't be for quite some time until CAPSTONE arrives at its destination. A circuitous journey In the course of about three days, the Apollo missions arrived on the moon. However, those renowned spacecraft were launched into orbit by NASA's Saturn V rocket, which is known to be the most powerful booster that has ever flown.

CAPSTONE travel around the moon and serve as a staging point for future missions.

CAPSTONE travel around the moon and serve as a staging point for future missions. (Image credit: Dominic Hart/NASA)

On the other hand, the Electron, which stands at 59 feet tall and is meant to deliver tiny satellites into orbit around the Earth, was the vehicle that carried the CAPSTONE away from our planet. Therefore, CAPSTONE will go along the more picturesque path.

CAPSTONE is a payload that is traveling into orbit on Rocket Lab's Photon spacecraft bus. This payload was fitted into the upper stage of the two-stage Electron rocket. Launch was successful, and around nine minutes after liftoff, Photon and CAPSTONE successfully detached from the upper stage and entered low Earth orbit.


The abbreviation CAPSTONE refers to the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. The mission's CubeSat was launched into space to test a one-of-a-kind lunar orbit that is known as a close rectilinear halo orbit, also known as (NRHO). This orbit is quite stretched out.

It is precisely situated at the point where the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Moon are equal and balanced. The CAPSTONE spacecraft has been traveling to the moon through a nontraditional but effective route across deep space for the last four months.

Electron rocket is electrically powered by batteries rather than a gas turbine.

Electron rocket is electrically powered by batteries rather than a gas turbine. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

This path, which maintains the gravitational contours throughout space and is known as a ballistic lunar transfer, allows the spacecraft to arrive at its target without using a negligible amount of energy since it follows the gravitational field lines.

The CAPSTONE spacecraft will shortly reach the completion of its gravity-driven trajectory and will get at the Moon. When the CAPSTONE spacecraft arrives at the Moon, its entry will need to be precisely aligned for NRHO insertion, that is the most important part of the mission.

Up until this point, the plan for the spacecraft's maneuvers allowed for some degree of flexibility dependent on its ability as well as other considerations. Now, however, the orbital insertion process has to take place at the precise moment that it should in order to guarantee that CAPSTONE will be placed in the appropriate orbit.

In order to achieve orbit, the spaceship will be traveling at speeds more than 9,000 kilometers per hour and will engage in a delicate, carefully planned maneuver that utilizes its propellants.

The goals of the mission are:

  • Validate the features of a cis-lunar just next to rectilinear halo orbit, that can be used by future missions.

  • Show that you are capable of entering and remaining in this one-of-a-kind orbit, which offers a very effective route to the surface of the Moon and back.

  • Demonstrate navigation services between spacecraft so that future spacecraft may figure out where they are in relation to the Moon without having to depend only on tracking from Earth.

  • Establish the groundwork for future lunar activities to be supported by commercial interests.

  • Gaining experience with specialized small deployments of CubeSats beyond low-Earth orbit, towards the Moon, and beyond is a priority.

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Because the NRHO orbit is located at an exact equilibrium position between the gravitational pulls of the Moon and earth, it requires very little energy to be maintained. As a result, it has the potential to serve as an excellent staging region for missions to the lunar surface and beyond into space. CAPSTONE will help decrease hazards associated with future spaceflights and might also contribute to the establishment of long-term missions such as the Gateway space station if it is able to validate this orbit.

In addition to NRHO, CAPSTONE will provide a demonstration of an important software technology known as the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS). CAPS is equipped with a cutting-edge spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigational technology that, when implemented, will free future projects from the need to depend on tracking from Earth in order to establish their whereabouts.

CAPSTONE has the capability to have direct communication with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which allows it to determine its own location in orbit. The Artemis missions at NASA will get help from this technology platform.

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