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 this is part of the great aim to reclaim astronauts on the lunar surface.
NASA's intention to send a crewed mission to the moon under the Artemis program had previously been covered. However, the Space Launch System (SLS) was largely overlooked for its enormous structure and thrust capability, but a contracted-out launch of a CubeSat late last month now holds significant importance as NASA seeks to restore the humans on the moon.
A 59-foot (18-m) tall rocket launched from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula on June 28th to test whether a new moon orbit might be used for human landing. Electron is a rocket developed by Rocket Lab, a US-based launch company.
What is the purpose of CAPSTONE?
The second stage of the rocket, Photon, separated from the booster and carried a 55-pound (25 kg) payload of a Cubesat or a tiny satellite minutes after the launch.
Photon's engines were fired time and again to raise its orbit and steer it further away from Earth, and on the sixth day, they were fired once more to raise its speed to 24,500 mph (39,500 kph) to leave Earth's orbit and approach the moon, a process that will take up to four months.
The tiny satellite will start up its boosters once more to set itself in anear rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), similar to a rubber band extending between two fingers. Interestingly, this is the first time NASA is attempting to place a spacecraft in such an orbit.
What is the benefit of Lunar Landing in this scenario?
If the mission is successful, NASA intends to construct an orbital space station around the moon in the same orbit, which will assist astronauts descend toward the moon during 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 Earth and also minimize the need for fuel.
The satellite is light-weight and uses it in an extremely energy-efficient manner, which is the reason for its slow descent to the moon. However, NASA has saved millions of dollars due to the low payload of fuel. The whole CAPSTONE project costs only $32.7 million in total.
"There is now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the moon, to asteroids, to Venus, to Mars," Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told the Associated Press. "It's an incredible capability that's never existed before."