(ORDO NEWS) — NASA wants to experiment with a new orbit around the Moon, which it hopes to use in the coming years to land astronauts on the lunar surface again.
So it sends out a test satellite from New Zealand. If successful, the microwave oven-sized Capstone CubeSat satellite will be the first to launch a new trajectory around the Moon and will transmit vital information for at least six months.
Technically, the new orbit is called a near-rectilinear halo. It is an elongated egg shape, one end of which runs close to the moon, and the other far from it.
Imagine that you are stretching the elastic band from your thumb. Your thumb will represent the moon and the rubber band will represent the flight path.
Remarkably, Capstone is inherent in balance, balance. It can lock into a specific, gravitationally-pleasant spot in space, where the Earth and Moon’s pulls interact to provide a near-stable orbit.
The launch of a 25-kilogram satellite into orbit will take more than four months and will be carried out in three stages.
First, Rocket Lab’s small Electron rocket launches from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. In just nine minutes, the second stage, called Photon, will separate and go into orbit around the Earth.
Over the course of five days, Photon’s thrusters will fire periodically to lift its orbit further and further away from Earth.
Six days after launch, Photon’s thrusters will fire for the last time, allowing it to de-orbit the Earth and head for the Moon.
It will then release the satellite, which has its own small propulsion system but won’t use much power as it travels to the Moon for four months, with a few planned trajectory adjustments along the way.
One advantage of the orbit is that, in theory, the space station should be able to maintain continuous communication with the Earth, as it would avoid being eclipsed by the Moon.
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