CAPSTONE en Route to the Moon After Successful Launch

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission is in space on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. CAPSTONE launched at 5:55 EDT (09:55 UTC) on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand, Tuesday, June 28.  

Over the next six days, the engine of the Lunar Photon – the spacecraft carrying CAPSTONE as a payload – will periodically ignite to accelerate beyond low-Earth orbit and release CAPSTONE on the next phase of its journey to the Moon.  

Read more about the launch and what comes next, here: CAPSTONE Launches to Test New Orbit for NASA’s Artemis Moon Missions. 

Live Coverage Begins for CAPSTONE Launch

Live coverage has begun of the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand, where the launch will take place, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. CAPSTONE serves as a pathfinder for the orbit planned for Gateway – the future lunar space station astronauts will visit during NASA’s Artemis missions.

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket stands ready to carry CAPSTONE to space, with an instantaneous launch opportunity at 5:55 a.m. EDT (09:55 UTC). Follow the launch live on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

CAPSTONE Launch Day Weather Forecast: 75% Favorable

The weather forecast for Tuesday, June 28, is 75% favorable for launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. The instantaneous launch opportunity is at 5:55 a.m. EDT (09:55 UTC) with liftoff from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. 

A graphic featuring the CAPSTONE mission patch, along with text: Launch Weather Update. Weather Conditions: Mainly fine weather expected for T-0. Thick mid-high cloud is expected to reduce as the count progresses. Winds N-NE gusting 4-6 meters per second (m/s), possibly increasing to 12-14 m/s close to T-0. Weather = 75% go for launch.
Click to expand. Credit: Rocket Lab

 

CAPSTONE Launch Targeting June 28

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are targeting June 28 for the launch of the CAPSTONE mission. The instantaneous launch opportunity is at 5:55 a.m. EDT (09:55 UTC). Live coverage will begin at 5 a.m. EDT on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

CAPSTONE’s trajectory design means that the spacecraft will arrive at its lunar orbit on Nov. 13 regardless of launch date within the current period, which offers launch opportunities every day through July 27.

Learn more about CAPSTONE.

CAPSTONE Launch No Longer Targeting June 27

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are standing down from the June 27 launch attempt for the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon to allow Rocket Lab to perform final systems checks.

Teams are evaluating weather and other factors to determine the date of the next launch attempt. The next launch opportunity within the current period is on June 28. CAPSTONE’s trajectory design means that the spacecraft will arrive at its lunar orbit on Nov. 13 regardless of launch date within the current period, which offers launch opportunities every day through July 27.

Learn more about CAPSTONE.

CAPSTONE Spacecraft Launch Targeted No Earlier Than June 27

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are now targeting June 27, 2022, for the launch of the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon, allowing teams more time for rocket preparations. CAPSTONE’s trajectory design means that the spacecraft will arrive to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13 regardless of launch date within the current period, which runs through July 27.

CAPSTONE Spacecraft Launch Targeted No Earlier Than June 25

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are currently targeting no earlier than June 25, 2022, for the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. Learn more about this ambitious mission flying a new path to the Moon.

CAPSTONE Mission Launch No Longer Targeting June 13

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are no longer targeting June 13 for the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission to the Moon. Flight software is being updated. A revised schedule will be provided as soon as possible.

Since arriving in New Zealand, CAPSTONE was successfully fueled and integrated with the Lunar Photon upper stage by teams from Rocket Lab, Terran Orbital, and Stellar Exploration. CAPSTONE and Photon have been encapsulated in the payload fairing.

Gateway’s Propulsion System Testing Throttles Up

Image Caption: In April, PPE engineers successfully tested the integration of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster with Maxar’s power procession unit and Xenon Flow Controller. Credit: NASA.
Image Caption: In April, PPE engineers successfully tested the integration of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster with Maxar’s power procession unit and Xenon Flow Controller. Credit: NASA.

The powerhouse of Gateway, NASA’s orbiting outpost around the Moon and a critical piece of infrastructure for Artemis, is in the midst of several electric propulsion system tests.

The Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), being manufactured by Maxar Technologies, provides Gateway with power, high-rate communications, and propulsion for maneuvers around the Moon and to transit between different orbits. The PPE will be combined with the Habitation and Logistic Outpost (HALO) before the integrated spacecraft’s launch, targeted for late 2024 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Together, these elements will serve as the hub for early Gateway crewed operations and various science and technology demonstrations as the full Gateway station is assembled around it in the coming years.

The PPE engineering team is conducting an extensive electric propulsion system test campaign to better understand Gateway’s performance during various mission scenarios. The test allows engineers and mission planners to adjust the system to ensure it meets the requirements for exploration of the Moon during Artemis missions.

Solar electric propulsion is ideal for Gateway because these systems harness the energy of the Sun, convert it to power, and then use that power to produce long-duration, highly efficient thrust, providing mission flexibility and reduced costs. The PPE will use both a 6-kilowatt (kW) and a 12-kW electric propulsion system. Each system contains various components that help the spacecraft thrust efficiently: thruster(s), power processing units (PPU), flow controllers that regulate the flow of gases, like xenon, used for propulsion, etc. Multiple companies, including prime contractor Maxar as well as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Busek, Co. are supplying electric propulsion technologies for PPE.

The developmental versions of the spacecraft’s thrusters and electric propulsion systems are being tested at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. These efforts include the first end-to-end test of the 6-kW system to validate changes and technical interactions between Maxar’s flight-like PPU and Busek’s 6-kW test thruster, as well as validation of Maxar’s larger 12-kW PPU with a prototype 12-kW thruster. The team has also conducted end-to-end tests using Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS)12-kW test thruster. The first phase of testing ended in mid-April and successfully demonstrated operations with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s thruster and Maxar’s PPU and Xenon Flow Controller. NASA plans to continue testing PPE’s propulsion system to reduce spacecraft integration and operational risks.

During the tests, each system proved capable of performing across the full mission power range and parameters. Additionally, during the tests, the engineering team completed various start up and shut down sequences and thruster throttling to simulate operations around the Moon. These tests for both electric propulsion systems were important for finalizing design, requirements, and capabilities.

The milestone propulsion system tests represent progression through the initial development stage, leading to critical design review, and additional spacecraft ground testing later this year. That ground testing will be followed by spacecraft delivery, and eventual integration with HALO prior to launch.

Reliable operation of what will be the highest-power electric propulsion system ever flown is critical for the integrated spacecraft to complete its transit from Earth orbit to lunar orbit. It is vital for Gateway’s operations as a home away from home for astronauts and a lunar microgravity lab supporting Artemis and future missions.