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CAPSTONE Uses Gravity on Unusual, Efficient Route to the Moon

CAPSTONE is planned to launch no earlier than May 31 aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. The CubeSat will start its mission joined with the Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage developed by Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab Begins Payload Integration for CAPSTONE Mission to the Moon

CAPSTONE will be launched to an initial low Earth orbit by Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and then placed on a ballistic lunar transfer by Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon spacecraft bus. Unlike the Apollo lunar missions of the 1960s and 70s, which took a free return trajectory to the Moon, this fuel efficient ballistic lunar transfer makes it possible to deploy CAPSTONE to such a distant orbit using a small launch vehicle.

Little CAPSTONE cubesat ready to launch on big moon mission next month

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment — mercifully called CAPSTONE for short — tips the scales at a modest 55 pounds (25 kilograms). This microwave-oven-sized spacecraft will be lofted from New Zealand aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket equipped with a Lunar Photon upper stage.

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The spacecraft is nearly ready for launch. “We are at a really critical stage for the mission. The hardware is all together and is going into testing,” Brad Cheetham, chief executive of Advanced Space, said during a panel at the 24th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 17.