Delayed time and again due to final system checks, the launch of the CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) probe was a highly anticipated event. Specifically, these are the first lunar missions announced by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) as part of its space program called “Artemis”.
With its satellite placed on top of an Electron rocket, the CAPSTONE mission was able to start this Tuesday, June 28, from New Zealand. The 55-pound (25 kg) cubesat took off from the Mahia Peninsula at 11:55 a.m. (local time in France). This successful flight marked the beginning of 6 days of maneuvering in Earth orbit before sending the small 25 kg probe to the Moon. “The launch was absolutely fantastic,” says Bradley Smith, CEO and president of the company that manages NASA’s mission.
The CAPSTONE project is unusual for NASA in many ways. To begin with, the federal agency responsible for the U.S. civilian space program has visibly trusted Rocket Lab and its small 13-ton rocket. The CAPSTONE vessel is small in size and range. And for the record, there will be no astronauts on the side of the spacecraft. “NASA has been to the moon before, but I’m not sure it was organized that way,” said Bradley Smith.
The CAPSTONE probe will remain in orbit between 6 months and one year and will test communication modes with NASA Deep Space Network stations. The ship possesses all the elements necessary for a conventional mission. Currently, CAPSTONE is taking a slow but effective path to its main destination, the Moon.