Nasa launches nanosatellite in preparation for the Gateway lunar station

·Contributor
·3-min read
The rocket carrying the CAPSTONE satellite lifts off (NASA)
The rocket carrying the Capstone satellite lifts off. (NASA)

Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.

It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: "Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa's ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.

"We're thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon."

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The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.

Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.

Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.

The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

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Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, "Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.

“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!"

At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.

Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.

It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.

“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

Nasa estimates the cost of the whole Artemis mission at $28bn.

It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Just 12 people have walked on the moon - all men.

Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.

The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.

Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station

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