Nasa to launch lunar cubesat on pioneering orbit Tuesday morning

Nasa’s Capstone cubesat will pave the way for a space station around the Moon

<p>Nasa’s Capstone Cubesat will launch Tuesday morning for unique orbit around the Moon</p>

Nasa’s Capstone Cubesat will launch Tuesday morning for unique orbit around the Moon

After several delays, Nasa is targeting Tuesday morning to launch its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or Capstone, cubesat.

The 55-pound small satellite is scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand at 5.55am EDT Tuesday morning, with live coverage beginning at 5am on Nasa’s website, app, and Nasa TV.

The Rocket Lab Electron rocket launching Capstone will give the small craft the initial push it needs to begin a four month orbital transfer into a unique orbital pattern around the Moon known as a near rectilinear halo orbit — its an oval stretched out to the point that the sides are almost straight. Capstone will take about a week to complete a single orbit, passing over the Moon’s poles.

But the oval will not be centered on the Moon. Instead, Capstone will pass 47,000 miles above the lunar North pole on one end of the orbit, and just 2,100 miles above the lunar South pole on the other.

The reason for such a lopsided orbit is that Capstone is a pathfinder mission of sorts for a much larger spacecraft to come, Nasa’s Lunar Gateway. Intended to serve as a space station/way station for astronauts heading to and from the lunar surface, Gateway will fly lower near the South pole where Nasa anticipates much of its astronaut activity will take place.

The first Artemis mission to return humans to the Moon, Artemis III, is scheduled for 2025, and the space agency plans to launch further missions annually beginning in 2027.

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