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NASA's launch of CAPSTONE mission to return to the moon delayed

NASA's launch of CAPSTONE mission to return to the moon delayed
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket sits on the pad at the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for wet dress rehearsal ahead of the CAPSTONE launch. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab

June 27 (UPI) -- NASA's return to the moon starting with the launch of an unmanned capsule from the U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab to the moon for the CAPSTONE mission scheduled for Monday has been delayed.

The CAPSTONE is now targeted to launch no earlier than Tuesday aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the company's Launch Complex in Mahia, New Zealand.

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The federal space agency announced the delay in launching the microwave-oven-sized CubeSat, a spacecraft satellite weighing 55 pounds, to the moon on Sunday to allow more time for the Rocket Lab to perform final system checks, according to a NASA blog.

"Teams are evaluating weather and other factors to determine the date of the next launch attempt," NASA said in a blog. "The next launch opportunity within the current period is on June 28. CAPSTONE's trajectory design means that the spacecraft will arrive at its lunar orbit on Nov. 13 regardless of launch date within the current period, which offers launch opportunities every day through July 26."

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The CubeSat serves as a robotic probe that will go around the moon and back as the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit for the CAPSTONE mission, an acronym for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment.

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The CAPSTONE mission will act as a pathfinder for the moon-orbiting outpost, named Gateway, that will eventually support the long-term human return to the lunar surface.

The mission is part of NASA's 21st-century moon program named for Artemis, who in Greek mythology was a twin sister of Apollo. The program aims to return humans to the moon in 2024, more than half a century since the last Apollo moon landing.

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CAPSTONE will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of the halo-shaped orbit, formally known as near rectilinear halo orbit, according to NASA.

The Photon upper stage will release CAPSTONE into solo flight six days after launch. After a four-month journey to the moon, CAPSTONE will orbit around the moon for at least six months to understand the characteristics of the orbit. It will also demonstrate the reliability of innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and one-way ranging capabilities, which could help future spacecraft fly near the moon with reduced reliance on communication with Earth.

Advanced Space in Westminster, Colo., is the commercial owner and operator of CAPSTONE. The mission represents an innovative collaboration between NASA and the private company to provide rapid results to inform future space exploration.

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