After several delays, Nasa is targeting Tuesday morning to launch its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or Capstone, cubesat.
The 55-pound small satellite is scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, Recent Zealand at 5.55am EDT Tuesday morning, with live coverage starting at 5am on Nasa’s website, app, and Nasa TV.
The Rocket Lab Electron rocket launching Capstone will give the small craft the initial push it needs to start a 4 month orbital transfer into a singular orbital pattern across the Moon generally known as a near rectilinear halo orbit — its an oval stretched out to the purpose that the edges are almost straight. Capstone will take about every week to finish a single orbit, passing over the Moon’s poles.
However the oval is not going to be centered on the Moon. As a substitute, Capstone will pass 47,000 miles above the lunar North pole on one end of the orbit, and just 2,100 miles above the lunar South pole on the opposite.
The rationale for such a lopsided orbit is that Capstone is a pathfinder mission of sorts for a much larger spacecraft to come back, Nasa’s Lunar Gateway. Intended to function an area station/way station for astronauts heading to and from the lunar surface, Gateway will fly lower near the South pole where Nasa anticipates much of its astronaut activity will happen.
The primary Artemis mission to return humans to the Moon, Artemis III, is scheduled for 2025, and the space agency plans to launch further missions annually starting in 2027.