15 April 2024

Rocket Lab’s historic lunar mission set to launch tomorrow from NZ

The New Zealand space sector is set to star in NASA’s CAPSTONE moon mission – with Rocket Lab launching a satellite to the Moon from New Zealand with earliest opportunity tomorrow, June 28 (21:55 NZT). back-up opportunities are available through July 27.

Rocket lab is launching the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) from Mahia, New Zealand.

This historic lunar mission is in support of NASA’s Artemis Program which plans to return humans to the lunar surface, renewing human exploration of the Moon and progressing towards human exploration of Mars.

This pathfinding 55-pound CubeSat will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, paving the way for future exploration of the lunar surface.

Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab’s first satellite to the Moon is scheduled for 28 June (Photo/Rocket Lab)

Webcast for CAPSTONE will begin appro. 45 minutes before lift-off and can be watched here.

CAPSTONE is expected to orbit this area around the Moon for at least six months to understand the characteristics of the orbit. It will validate the propulsion requirements for maintaining its orbit as predicted by NASA’s models. It will also demonstrate innovative navigation solutions including spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation and one-way ranging capabilities with Earth ground stations.

Rocket Lab launches typically deploy spacecraft to orbits between 500 – 1,200 km altitude above Earth’s surface. This time, however, they’re combining Electron and Photon to send a spacecraft a little bit further than usual – some 1.3 million km further, according to Rocket Lab.

New Zealand’s participation in the Artemis Accords is helping New Zealand researchers and our space sector companies to participate in the Artemis Program. New Zealand’s space sector is worth over $1.7 billion per annum with a space manufacturing industry that generates around $247 million per annum in revenue.

Separately, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has signed a bespoke agreement with NASA that has enabled a University of Canterbury-led research collaboration with NASA to track Moon-orbiting spacecraft, as part of NASA’s CAPSTONE mission.

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