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NASA launches CubeSat to test the orbit of its future Gateway lunar station

NASA launched today a CubeSat of microwave size to test the orbit of the Gateway Station around the Moon.

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NASA launches CubeSat to test the orbit of its future Gateway lunar station

It is currently attached to a third stage rocket, which will launch it to the Moon. The launcher's third-stage will accelerate to release CubeSat. This trajectory is called ballistic lunar transfer (BLT). It will allow the satellite's trip to the Moon to be made with minimal energy consumption using the Sun's gravitation. CAPSTONE will reach its destination in four months.

The CubeSat will then enter the so-called near straight halo orbit (NRHO), where it will be as close to the lunar north pole at its closest pass as possible and as far as 76,000 kilometers away from the south as its furthest. CubeSat will orbit once every six and a quarter days and remain operational for at most six months. The NRHO offers stability for long-term missions, and is energy efficient.

"CAPSTONE is an explorer, in many ways." Elwood Agasid (project manager at NASA Ames Research Center) said that he will show various technological capabilities while traversing in a never-before tested orbit around the Moon. He said that the minisatellite "is laying the foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations."

New Zealand's CAPSTONE rocket launches its engines from the Mahia Peninsula. NASA TV

Gateway is the lunar station where the first humans to step foot on it since December 1972, will descend to the satellite with two astronauts from Artemis 3 "not before 2025". NASA and the European Space Agency are leading the construction of the platform. The Canadian (CSA), Japanese (JAXA), and Japanese (ESA) also participate. The current schedule shows that the first module will be launched into space in 2024, and it will then be used as a link to orbit the Moon one year later.

The rocket that was part of the Artemis 1 mission passed the countdown, refueling, and wet dress rehearsal last week. Artemisa 1 will mark the beginning of the Space Launch System (SLS), which consists of a rocket, two thrusters and an Orion capsule. ESA is also participating in its construction. Liftoff will occur at the beginning of July.

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