Science

NASA’s CAPSTONE CubeSat Launch to the Moon Delayed Until May 31st

The tiny spacecraft bound for the moon will have to wait at least a few more days for launch.

The launch of the CAPSTONE mission, short for Technological Operations and Navigation Experiment of the Circumlunar Autonomous Positioning System, has been pushed back four days to no earlier than May 31, NASA announced this week.

“We will continuously evaluate the date of the first targeted launch attempt during the launch period, which will last until June 22,” agency representatives wrote on Wednesday (May 11) in their blog for the Artemis lunar program. The report did not specify why the launch was slightly delayed.

The microwave-sized CAPSTONE spacecraft will be launched from New Zealand aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket with a Lunar Photon upper stage. Its mission is to test the stability of a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon by simulating what the Gateway — a small space station in lunar orbit that is a key part of the Artemis plan — would have to follow with astronauts on board.

Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photo)

An artist's rendering of the force and propulsion element for the Gateway, an orbital base that NASA plans to build for human exploration of the moon.

Artist’s rendering of the force and propulsion element for the Gateway, an orbital base that NASA plans to build for human exploration of the moon. (Image credit: NASA)

The planned orbit will bring CAPSTONE within 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of the nearest lunar pole, allowing access to the south pole. This is a prime target for crewed Artemis missions, given the likely presence of water ice in permanently shadowed polar craters.

At its highest altitude, CAPSTONE will rise 43 times as high to 43,500 miles (70,000 km). The advantage of such an orbit is that future spacecraft arriving to and from the Moon’s surface at the south pole would not need to fly as high to meet the Gateway, but the halo orbit has not yet been tested by other spacecraft.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the Moon has known mascons (mass concentrations) that can perturb orbits. Therefore, NASA is looking for an inexpensive test before sending the much more expensive Gateway into such an orbit.

CAPSTONE’s secondary mission is to evaluate navigation and communication systems between spacecraft using NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009. The CAPSTONE flight was originally supposed to take place in 2021, but the mission has since been delayed due to COVID-19. related questions.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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