Rocket Lab is gearing up for its first lunar mission later this year as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
The launch and space systems company said it will launch its CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) cubesat from its facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand between October and December 2021.
The original plan had been to begin the mission from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, U.S., but various delays prompted the company to switch operations to its existing New Zealand facility.
Rocket Lab will use its workhorse Electron rocket to send CAPSTONE on its way. Once in space, the company’s Photon spacecraft will help to deploy CAPSTONE in a lunar orbit.
During its six-month mission, CAPSTONE will gather data designed to help NASA with preparations for the Lunar Gateway that will act as a space station for its upcoming Artemis missions aimed at putting the first woman and next man on the moon.
Specifically, the satellite will confirm the propulsion system for holding the ideal lunar orbit, test the accuracy of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation for more accurate positioning, and demonstrate possibilities for the commercial support of future missions to the moon.
Rocket Lab’s mission will mark the first time for its Photon spacecraft to be used in this way, with the company’s maiden lunar mission representing a dramatic expansion of its current business of launching small satellites into low-Earth orbit.
“Our team is immensely proud to be launching one of the first pathfinding missions to support NASA’s goal of delivering a sustainable and robust presence on the moon,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a message on the company’s website.
Beck added, “We’ve teamed up with the NASA Launch Services Program on previous Electron missions to low-Earth orbit, so it’s exciting to be working with them again to go just a bit further than usual … some 380,000 km further.”
Beck recently introduced a video tour of Rocket Lab’s cutting-edge facilities in California and New Zealand, offering interested folks a peek at the machinery powering its increasingly ambitious space missions.