If all goes according to the current plan, CAPSTONE will launch Monday at 5:50 a.m. EDT (0950 GMT) and arrive at the moon on Nov. 13. That arrival date will remain the same no matter when CAPSTONE lifts off, NASA officials said; it’s set by the mission’s trajectory design. CAPSTONE’s launch window extends through July 27.
The 55-pound (25 kilograms) CAPSTONE won’t land on the moon. Its chief objective is to verify the stability of a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the moon — a highly elliptical path that no spacecraft has ever occupied before.
NASA plans to put its Gateway space station — a key part of NASA’s Artemis program of moon exploration — into a lunar NRHO, and CAPSTONE is tasked with testing it out.
The cubesat will also perform some navigation and communications tests, some of them in tandem with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Earth’s nearest neighbor for more than a decade.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).
Originally published at www.space.com