Designed and built by Terran Orbital, CAPSTONE will support NASA’s Artemis program in reducing the risk for future Moon bound spacecraft.
Credit: Terran Orbital

A small satellite is en route toward the Moon…via New Zealand.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE, will support NASA’s Artemis program.

As a pathfinder for NASA’s Gateway station, a Moon-orbiting outpost, CAPSTONE’s mission is to help reduce the risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO).

Artwork depicts CAPSTONE spacecraft in a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the moon.
Credit: NASA/Advanced Space

Staging area

CAPSTONE’s orbit also establishes a location that is an ideal staging area for missions to the Moon and beyond. Its location at a precise balance point in the gravities of the Earth and the Moon offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway and requires minimal energy to maintain.

Designed and built by Terran Orbital, the CAPSTONE payload and its software are owned and operated by Advanced Space for NASA.

CAPSTONE is a 12U CubeSat that includes a radio tower on top that extends its size from a traditional 12U form factor.

Jeffrey Parker, chief technology officer of Advanced Space (left) explains the CAPSTONE mission to U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper over a full-size model of the spacecraft.
Credit: Advanced Space/Jason Johnson

Ballistic lunar transfer

The smallsat is soon to be launched (no earlier than May 31st) Rocket Lab Electron rocket from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. That company’s Lunar Photon satellite upper stage will send the spacecraft on its planned lunar transfer trajectory.

CAPSTONE will not go directly to the Moon. Instead, it will follow a “ballistic lunar transfer” that takes the craft out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning into lunar orbit. That transfer, which will take about four months to complete, is designed to save propellant, making the mission feasible for such a small spacecraft.

Credit: Rocket Lab

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