(WELLINGTON) A microwave-sized satellite successfully left Earth’s orbit on Monday and headed for the moon, the latest step in NASA’s plan to land new astronauts on the lunar surface.
Posted at 6:15 am.
It was already an extraordinary journey for the capstone satellite. It was launched six days ago from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand by Rocket Lab on one of their small Electron rockets. It takes four more months for the satellite to reach the moon because it navigates using minimal energy.
Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press that his excitement is hard to put into words.
“It’s a project that has taken us two years, two and a half years and has been incredibly difficult to implement,” he said. So to see everything come together tonight and see this spacecraft on its way to the moon is absolutely epic. »
Mr Beck believes the mission’s relatively low cost – estimated by NASA at $32.7 million – marks the start of a new era for space exploration.
“For a few billion dollars, you now have a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the moon, to asteroids, to Venus, to Mars. It’s an insane capability that’s never existed,” Beck said.
If the rest of the mission is successful, the Capstone satellite will be the first satellite to take a new orbit around the Moon, a so-called halo orbit, nearly rectilinear: in the shape of an elongated egg that will transmit critical information for months. One end of the orbit goes closer to the Moon and the other further away from it.
Eventually, NASA plans to place a space station called Gateway in this orbit, where astronauts could land on the lunar surface as part of its Artemis program.
The advantage of the new orbit is that it reduces fuel consumption and allows a satellite – or a space station – to stay in constant contact with Earth, Mr Peck said.
The Electron rocket, which launched on June 28 from New Zealand, carried the second spacecraft. Photon, who broke away nine minutes later. The satellite was carried by the spacecraft for six days PhotonThe latter engines fire periodically to raise its orbit further and further away from Earth.
On Monday, one final push was allowed from the engine Photon Break the Earth’s gravity and send the satellite on its way. The 25-kilogram satellite is expected to fly past the moon before falling back into a new lunar orbit on November 13. En route, the satellite will use a small amount of fuel to make some planned course corrections.
The rocket lab will decide what to do in the next few days, Mr. Beck said PhotonIt had completed its tasks and still had some fuel left in the tank.
“There’s actually a lot of existing work that we can actually do,” Beck pointed out.
For this mission, NASA partnered with two commercial companies: California-based Rocket Lab and Colorado-based Advanced Space, which owns and operates the Capstone satellite.