Rocket Lab will make its first launch into the orbit of the Moon. On an unmanned mission and for study purposes for upcoming trips, the CAPSTONE satellite will test the navigation tools of the Californian startup in a lunar environment and pave the way for a next visit to the Natural satellite.
It will be Rocket Lab’s most ambitious mission to date. The startup already owns 53 different spaceships passing through space, but none of them left Earth’s orbit; however, traveling to more distant destinations has always been the company’s ambition. “From the first day I arrived at Rocket Lab, extending Electron’s legs and continuing to test our limits has been in the company’s interest,” noted Amanda Stiles, manager of the Moon trip for Rocket Lab.
Electron, in turn, is one of the company’s main rockets and responsible for 12 trips made by the startup. Photon, the spacecraft responsible for sending CAPSTONE to lunar orbit, is a large investment project by Rocket Lab. Cylindrical in shape, it is fitted on top of the Electron rocket and was made to launch any equipment demanded by customers.
In addition to spatial recognition, sending Photon to lunar orbit is also a way of proving that the spacecraft is suitable for longer trips and to more distant destinations. “For most of the demand, the Earth’s orbit is the most desired; but she [Photon] is versatile enough to accept enhancements and be used as a platform for these more advanced missions, ”describes Stiles for The Verge.
The CAPSTONE mission required major improvements for Photon. One is the introduction of larger propulsion tanks and HyperCurie, a new engine developed by the company. The Moon will be reached within 8 to 9 days and only when it reaches orbit will CAPSTONE be disassociated from the rest of Photon’s body.
After that, CAPSTONE will try to enter the lunar orbit and test the navigation and control tools. After that, the satellite will send data to the ground base and help to understand how the tools behave there.
The company plans to go further. After that trip, Rocket Lab already comments on interplanetary trips for the same assessments and tests of the technology itself – more specifically for Mars and Venus. The time until these trips are made depends on the success of the trip to the Moon.