NASA will have a lot of work to do on the moon in the years to come.
Possibly before the end of the summer, a massive rocket will propel a capsule around the moon and back to Earth while there are no humans inside. Experiments will be left on the moon by a procession of robotic landers in order to capture mountains of data for scientific research, particularly about the water ice that is locked up in the polar regions. After landing on the moon for the last time during the Apollo missions more than half a century ago, astronauts are planning to go back there in the not too distant future.
All of those things are a part of the Apollo and Artemis Moon Exploration Program that NASA is doing in the 21st century.
The CAPSTONE spacecraft, which is the first component of Artemis to be sent on its way to the moon, is scheduled to take off as soon as this week. In both size and breadth, it is not quite as extensive as what is to come after it.
On board the CAPSTONE, there won’t be any astronauts at all. The size of the spaceship is laughable, being about comparable to that of a microwave oven. Even the moon’s surface will not be visited by this robotic probe.
However, in many respects, it is unlike any other expedition to the moon that has come before it. It is possible that NASA may use this as a model for public-private partnerships that it could form in the future in order to maximise the return on investment of its investment in interstellar travel.
Bradley Cheetham, chief executive and president of Advanced Space, the firm that is organising the project for NASA, said that “NASA has gone to the moon before, but I’m not sure it’s ever been put together like this.” Advanced Space is the business that is handling the mission for NASA.
The launch was supposed to take place on Monday, but on Sunday, it was decided to push it back by at least one day in order to allow Rocket Lab, a business based in the United States and New Zealand that is giving CAPSTONE’s ride to orbit, more time to execute final system tests.
NASA said in a blog post that the organisation is now “teams are examining weather and other criteria to decide the timing of the next launch attempt.” The 28th of June is the next available chance to launch within the current time frame.
The mission is officially referred to as the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment to give it its full title. It will perform the function of a scout for the lunar orbit, which is where a manned space station will ultimately be constructed as a component of Artemis. This outpost, which will be known as Gateway, will perform the function of a way station where future astronauts will halt before proceeding on to the surface of the moon.
The CAPSTONE mission is not typical of NASA in many respects. To begin, it is not now positioned on a launchpad in Florida but rather in New Zealand. Second, NASA was not involved in the planning, construction, or operation of CAPSTONE in any way, shape, or form. Even worse, the government agency does not even own it. The firm that owns and operates CAPSTONE is called Advanced Space, and it is located on the suburbs of Denver.
The spacecraft is heading toward the moon along a trajectory that is sluggish yet effective. Up to the 27th of July, there will be daily chances to launch. If the spacecraft is able to lift off the ground at that time, then it will always reach lunar orbit on the same day, November 13, regardless of which day it launches.
The CAPSTONE mission is part of ongoing efforts by NASA to continue collaborating with commercial enterprises in innovative new ways in the goal of acquiring greater capabilities more rapidly and at a lesser cost.
According to Bill Nelson, who is in charge of managing NASA’s operations, “It’s another method for NASA to find out what it needs to find out and bring the cost down.”
The cost of the contract between Advance Space and NASA for CAPSTONE, which was signed in 2019, was $20 million. Rocket Lab’s launch services cost slightly under ten million dollars, while CAPSTONE’s trip to space may be had for less than that amount.