NASA will launch the CAPSTONE mission on Monday, June 27

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket sits atop the launch pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a dress rehearsal ahead of CAPSTONE's launch.

A tiny satellite is about to set the stage for something much grander: a full-fledged lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit as part of a guidance mission for the Artemis programwhich seeks to return humans to the Moon later this decade.

CAPSTONE hitchhikes aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May by using a helicopter to catch a falling booster rocket. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch at 6 a.m. ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can see the action at the agency website Where applicationor you can watch it on the live stream below.

NASA Live: Official NASA TV stream

About a week into the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s journey will be made available through NASA Eyes on the solar system interactive visualization of 3D data in real time.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite into a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. The satellite will be the first to carve its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for the plane Lunar gatewaya small space station intended to allow a sustained human presence on the Moon.

NRHO is special in that it is where the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth interact; this orbit will theoretically keep the spacecraft in a “gravitational sweet spot” in a quasi-stable orbit around the Moon, according at NASA. NRHO is therefore ideal in that it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a constant line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its gateway to this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE, owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space, to test its orbital models.

CAPSTONE artist conception.
GIF: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Six days after its launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the Moon. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cubesat will then complete the rest of its four-month journey solo. Once on the Moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test inter-spacecraft navigation technology and one-way ranging capabilities that could potentially reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals to be relayed by other spacecraft.

NASA is methodically assembling the pieces of the agency’s planned return to the Moon. The the space agency’s fourth and final dress rehearsal for the Space Launch System (SLS) went wellpaving the way for a possible launch in late August.

After: This tiny moon-bound satellite could pave the way for a lunar space station

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