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NASA set to launch Capstone today as the first piece of Artemis to the moon

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced that it will air live launch coverage of the its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), the first spacecraft to fly a specific unique lunar orbit ahead of future missions with crew on Monday, June 27, 2022.

The spacecraft CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch as the first piece of Artemis to head to the moon. Notably, there will not be any astronauts aboard CAPSTONE as the spacecraft is too tiny, only about the size of a microwave oven.

“CAPSTONE is targeted to launch on Monday, June 27, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. The instantaneous launch opportunity is at 6 a.m. Live coverage will begin at 5 a.m. on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app. The destination for this microwave oven-size CubeSat is a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). That same orbit is planned for Gateway, a multipurpose outpost for long-term lunar missions as part of the agency’s Artemis program,” as per the agency statement.

After about six days of launch, the Photon upper stage will release CAPSTONE into space for the first portion of the spacecraft’s solo flight. After a four-month journey to the moon, CAPSTONE will test the dynamics of the NRHO for at least six months, helping reduce risk for future spacecraft, the space agency shared. “CAPSTONE will also demonstrate innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and one-way ranging capabilities that could help future spacecraft fly near the Moon with reduced need for communication with Earth,” it said.

The agency has further notified that the public are invited to follow “CAPSTONE’s journey live using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization.” After about one week of its launch, “you can virtually ride along with the CubeSat with a simulated solar system view.” 

NASA will be posting updates in the visualization on the agency’s Ames Research Center home page as well as Twitter and Facebook. It is important to note that CAPSTONE is commercially owned and operated by Advanced Space in Westminster, Colorado, on behalf of NASA. 

It represents an innovative collaboration between NASA and industry to provide rapid results and feedback to inform future exploration and science missions. Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, of Irvine, California, built the spacecraft. The mission also includes contributions from Stellar Exploration Inc., Space Dynamics Lab, Tethers Unlimited Inc., and Orion Space Systems, as per the agency statement.

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