NASA launched CAPSTONE, a microwave oven-sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds (25 kg). CAPSTONE, short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is designed to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit.
- The satellite, launched on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, is heading toward an orbit intended in the future for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program.
- As a pathfinder for Gateway, CAPSTONE aims to help reduce risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies, and by verifying the dynamics of the halo-shaped orbit.
- The orbit is known as a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO).
- It is significantly elongated, and is located at a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon.
- This offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway, NASA said on its website.