WELLINGTON, New Zealand ( Associated Press) – A satellite the size of a microwave oven was successfully freed from its orbit around Earth on Monday and headed for the Moon, according to NASA’s plan to re-land astronauts on the lunar surface. is the latest step.
It has already been an unusual journey for the Capstone satellite. It was launched six days ago by the company Rocket Lab in a small Electron rocket from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The satellite will take another four months to reach the Moon, as it orbits using minimal energy.
Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press that his enthusiasm was hard to put into words.
“It’s probably going to take a while to sink in. It’s been a project that took us two and a half years and it’s incredibly difficult to execute,” he said. “So to see it all together tonight and to see that spacecraft on its way to the Moon, it’s absolutely epic.”
Beck said the mission’s relatively low cost — NASA put it at $32.7 million — marked the beginning of a new era for space exploration.
“For a few tens of millions of dollars, there’s now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the Moon, asteroids, Venus, Mars,” Beck said. “It’s an insane ability that never existed before.”
If the rest of the mission is successful, the Capstone satellite will send back vital information for months as the first to take a new orbit around the Moon called a near-rectilinear halo orbit: a protruding egg along one end of the orbit. The shape is passing closer to the moon and the other away from it.
Eventually, NASA plans to place a space station called Gateway into the orbital path from which astronauts can land on the Moon’s surface as part of its Artemis program.
Beck said the advantage of the new orbit is that it reduces fuel use and allows a satellite — or a space station — to be in constant contact with Earth.
The Electron rocket, which launched from New Zealand on June 28, was carrying a second spacecraft called Photon, which separated after nine minutes. The satellite carried photons for six days, with the spacecraft’s engines periodically firing to propel its orbit further away from Earth.
A final engine burst on Monday allowed photons to break through Earth’s gravitational pull and send the satellite on its way. The plan is now for a 25-kilogram (55-pound) satellite, which will observe the Moon before falling back into the new lunar orbit on November 13. The satellite will use a small amount of fuel to perform some planned trajectory course corrections. Way.
Beck said they would decide in the coming days what to do with the Photon, which had completed its tasks and still had little fuel left in the tank.
“There’s a lot of really cool missions that we can really do with this,” Beck said.
For the mission, NASA worked closely with two commercial companies: California-based Rocket Lab and Colorado-based Advanced Space, which owns and operates the Capstone satellite.
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