Before the upcoming Artemis Program, NASA's Capstone Satellite Breaks From Earth's Orbit and Heads Towards the Moon

Before the upcoming Artemis Program, NASA's Capstone Satellite Breaks From Earth's Orbit and Heads T ...

On Monday, a satellite the size of a microwave oven broke free from its orbit around Earth and is heading towards the moon, the latest step in NASA's quest to land astronauts on the lunar surface.

The Capstone satellite has already had an unusual journey. It was launched six days ago from the Mahia Peninsula by the company Rocket Lab in one of their small Electron rockets. It will take another four months for the satellite to reach the moon, as it cruises along with minimal energy.

The Associated Press reported that Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck found it difficult to put his excitement into words.

It's going to take a while to sink in. It's been a project that took us two, two-and-a-half years to complete and that's just incredible, extremely difficult to execute, said the speaker. So to see it all come together tonight and see that spacecraft on its way to the moon is simply incredible.

Beck believes that the relatively low cost of the mission NASA estimated at $32.7 million (roughly Rs. 260 crore) marked the start of a new era of space exploration.

Beck claims that for tens of millions of dollars, there is now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the Moon to asteroids and to Venusto Mars. It's a remarkable capability that has never existed before.

If the remainder of the mission is successful, the Capstone satellite will return crucial information for months as the first to orbit the moon in a near-rectilinear halo orbit: a stretched-out egg shape with one end of the orbit passing close to the moon and the other far from it.

As part of NASA's Artemis program, NASA intends to construct a space station called Gateway in the orbital path, from which astronauts may ascend to the moon's surface.

Beck says the advantage of the new orbit is that it reduces fuel consumption and allows the satellite or a space station to remain in constant contact with Earth.

The Electron rocket that launched on June 28 from New Zealand was carrying a second spacecraft, called Photon, which separated after nine minutes. The satellite was carried for six days in Photon, with the spacecrafts engines firing periodically to increase its distance from Earth.

Photon's final engine failure on Monday allowed the satellite to break from Earth's gravitational pull and return to its original lunar orbit on November 13. The satellite will only use tiny amounts of gasoline to make a few planned trajectory adjustments along the way.

Beck said the pair would decide what to do with Photon in the coming days, which had completed its tasks but still had a bit of gasoline left in the tank.

Beck said there are a lot of really cool missions that we may be able to accomplish with it.

NASA collaborated with two commercial firms for the mission, including California-based Rocket Lab and Colorado-based Advanced Space, which owns and operates the Capstone satellite.

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