Mission To The Moon
Supporting NASA's mission to return humans to the Moon
In 2021 Rocket Lab will launch a CubeSat into lunar orbit for NASA. This historic pathfinding mission supports NASA’s Artemis program which will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.
Using our Electron rocket and Photon Lunar spacecraft, Rocket Lab will launch NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat to a unique lunar orbit.
CAPSTONE’s primary objective is to test and verify the calculated orbital stability of a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, the same orbit planned for the Lunar Gateway. The Gateway is a planned small space station that will orbit around the Moon to provide astronauts with access to the lunar surface. It will feature living quarters for astronauts, a lab for science and research and ports for visiting spacecraft. CAPSTONE will also test a navigation system that will measure its position relative to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) without relying on ground stations.
CAPSTONE is one of the first steps to learn how to operate more robust missions in this orbit - it's laying the groundwork for future exploration of our solar system.
How We're Getting There
The Electron launch vehicle is CAPSTONE’s ride to space. Launching since 2017, Electron rockets have delivered more than 50 satellites to orbit with a mission success rate of 100% for our customers. Electron will provide the Photon Lunar spacecraft bus and CAPSTONE CubeSat with the initial ride to low Earth orbit.
Once Electron reaches low Earth orbit, our Photon Lunar spacecraft takes the reigns to put CAPSTONE into Lunar orbit.
A reliable spacecraft bus is at the core of successful space missions. It’s the lifeline for payloads, providing power, propulsion, communications, pointing and more.
Photon will orbit the Earth in elliptical orbits over nine days to build up velocity for a Trans Lunar Injection to deploy CAPSTONE into an orbit around the Moon.
The Launch Site
CAPSTONE will be launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, USA.
CAPSTONE will be the first satellite to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. This unique orbit is the planned orbit for NASA’s Gateway – a planned small space station that will orbit around the Moon to provide astronauts with access to the lunar surface. CAPSTONE aims to reduce risk and validate operational concepts for future missions using the same lunar orbit.
In this orbit, CAPSTONE will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1600km and as far as 70000 km from the lunar surface. About the size of a microwave oven, this 25kg satellite has an onboard communications system capable of determining how far CAPSTONE is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two spacecraft is changing. The inter-spacecraft information will be used to demonstrate software for autonomous navigation, allowing future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.
The mission is supported by the hundreds of women and men of Rocket Lab at our Long Beach Headquarters, our launch sites and our production facilities.
Right now, and in the months to come before lift-off, our team members are building the Electron rocket for this mission, developing the Photon Lunar spacecraft, designing mission trajectories, readying the launch pad and preparing systems for the mission.
We’re proud to be working alongside NASA and industry partners Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems to deliver this historic mission and play our part in humanity’s return to the Moon.