According to Phys.org, a NASA satellite launched just last month has broken free from the Earth's orbit and is now heading towards the moon. All part of the great aim to re-enter astronauts on the moon's surface.
NASA's aim is to send a crewed mission to the moon under the Artemis program. The Space Launch System (SLS) had long been praised for its impressive structure and thrust capabilities, but a contracted-out launch of a CubeSat late last month has now taken precedence.
A 59-foot (18-m) high rocket launched from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand with a tiny satellite to simulate human landing. The mission took off on Electron, a rocket from Rocket Lab, a US-based launch company.
What is the purpose of CAPSTONE?
Minutes after the launch, the second stage of the rocket, called Photon, separated from the booster and carried a 55-pound (25 kg) payload of a Cubesat or a tiny satellite.
Photon's engines spit out of the Earth's orbit and moved it further away from the Moon over the next five days, and on the sixth day, they accelerated again to 24,500 mph (39,500 kph) to leave Earth's orbit and head towards the moon. About 20 minutes later, Photon released the tiny satellite, which will only be fired once to reach the moon for four months.
The tiny satellite will start up its boosters once more in anear rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), similar to a rubber band stretched between two fingers. Interestingly, this is the first time NASA is attempting to place a spacecraft in such an orbit.
What can be done about Lunar Landing?
If the mission is successful, NASA intends to establish an orbital space station around the moon in the same orbit, which will also assist astronauts descend toward the moon in the Artemis mission.
The tiny satellite will return images and data that NASA hasn't seen before. Due to the nature of the orbit, the satellite, as well as the following space station, will always remain in touch with the Earth and also minimize the use of gasoline.
The satellite is only using minimal electricity and is very energy-efficient, which is the reason for its slow journey to the moon. NASA has saved millions of dollars due to its extremely low payload of fuel.
"There is now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the moon, to asteroids, to Venus, and to Mars," Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told Associated Press. "It's an unbelievable capability that's never existed before."