(ORDO NEWS) — A rocket from Rocket Lab launched from a spaceport in New Zealand, which is supposed to launch the CAPSTONE satellite into lunar orbit.
Scientists plan to test the satellite’s entry into a stable orbit, in which it is planned to build the Gateway station in the future. This station will become a transit point for manned flights to the moon.
CAPSTONE is the first lunar exploration mission this year. But there will be more
The CAPSTONE spacecraft is quite small – the size of a microwave oven. But he has a very important job ahead of him.
It will study the specific orbit in which NASA plans to build a space station. There, the astronauts will stop before going to the surface of the moon and after returning.
Key to start
On June 28 at 12:55 Moscow time, a 17-meter-high rocket carrying CAPSTONE launched from a spaceport on the east coast of New Zealand, according to The New York Times . Although the mission collects information for NASA, it is owned by the private company Advanced Space.
For a moon-bound spacecraft, CAPSTONE is inexpensive, at just under $30 million, including a launch by US-New Zealand company Rocket Lab.
The first two stages of the Electron rocket launched CAPSTONE into an elliptical orbit around the Earth. Especially for this mission, Rocket Lab added a third stage to the rocket, which will methodically increase the height of the spacecraft over the next six days.
At this point, CAPSTONE will head towards the Moon on a slow but precise trajectory and reach its target on November 13th.
Why is NASA launching CAPSTONE?
The full name of the mission is Cislunar Autonomous System Positioning Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Experimental circumlunar autonomous positioning system, operation and navigation technologies).
For Artemis, NASA’s program to return a man to the moon, NASA decided to build the Gateway, a small space station in lunar orbit. This would make it easier for astronauts to access different regions of the moon.
This outpost should be placed in the so-called near-rectilinear halo orbit.
What is a halo orbit?
Halo orbits are orbits that are affected by the gravity of two bodies, in this case the Earth and the Moon. The influence of the two celestial bodies helps keep the orbit stable and minimizes the amount of propellant needed to keep the spacecraft in that orbit.
Gravitational interactions keep the orbit at an angle of approximately 90 degrees to the line of sight from Earth. Thus, the spacecraft never passes beyond the Moon, where communication with it would be interrupted.
The orbit that the Gateway will follow is about 3,500 km from the Moon’s North Pole and reaches a distance of 70,000 km when it passes over the South Pole. One revolution around the moon will take about a week.
No spacecraft has yet entered such an orbit. Thus, CAPSTONE will provide an opportunity to collect data that will refine the mathematical models of the Gateway flight in halo orbit.
What will happen during the mission?
From the moment it enters orbit, the mission is scheduled for six months, but can be extended by a year. The main task is to ensure the stability of the ship.
To do this, he will constantly contact the Earth and double-check his position to clarify how much he evaded.
And if a deviation has occurred, steer the engines a little. CAPSTONE will also test another method of determining its position by communicating with other spacecraft orbiting the moon.
What other missions to the Moon are expected in the near future?
The biggest moon launch expected this year is Arthemis-1, NASA’s first test flight for the return of a man to the moon.
Already at the end of August, NASA plans to launch a giant Space Launch System rocket that will carry the Orion capsule. The capsule will fly around the Moon and return to Earth without astronauts on board.
Also in August, South Korea plans to launch the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. It will be the first Korean satellite on the surface of the moon and will study lunar geology.
Other missions may take place, but most likely as early as next year. The Japanese company ispace intends to deliver cargo from Japan and several other countries to the surface of the moon.
Two American companies, Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, are also preparing to deliver payloads to the Moon. NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to build a lunar lander for astronauts.
Although this lander will be ready only in a few years, in the coming months the company may conduct an orbital test flight of Starship, the spacecraft that will form the basis for the delivery of the lander.
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