Jun 28, 2022 - Science

Small NASA satellite launches on big mission to orbit the Moon

A rocket launching from New Zealand in the dark

The Electron rocket carrying the CAPSTONE satellite. Photo: Rocket Lab

A tiny spacecraft designed to help prove NASA's plans to create a sustainable presence on the Moon launched on its mission Tuesday.

Why it matters: NASA hopes to send people back to the Moon as part of its Artemis program by 2025.

Driving the news: The small launcher company Rocket Lab sent the CAPSTONE spacecraft on its journey to circle the Moon, marking the company's first Moon launch.

  • CAPSTONE will use a unique orbit that hasn't been tested before.
  • NASA hopes to eventually place its Gateway space station — designed to be a jumping-off point for human missions to the lunar surface — in that same orbit, but CAPSTONE will help them figure out if it's possible first.
  • The spacecraft is also expected to test out key technology that could allow probes in orbit around the Moon one day to communicate with one another and navigate in tandem.
  • It will take CAPSTONE about four months to reach its orbit around the Moon.

The big picture: NASA is putting together the pieces it will need to make Artemis happen.

  • The space agency recently declared the "wet dress rehearsal" for its uncrewed Artemis I mission a success, paving the way for its launch in the not-too-distant future.
  • NASA also awarded two contracts to private companies to build spacesuits the agency's astronauts will use on the surface of the Moon.
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