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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.
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.
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.