- Laurence Russell
Terran Orbital ships CAPSTONE Satellite to New Zealand to prepare for Rocket Lab vessel integration
Terran Orbital Corporation, a global leader in satellite solutions, primarily serving the United States aerospace and defense industry, has announced it has shipped its CAPSTONE satellite to a launch site on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. CAPSTONE will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket using a Lunar Photon satellite upper stage to send the spacecraft on its planned lunar transfer trajectory. This historic pathfinding mission supports NASA’s Artemis program which includes landing the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon.
Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, built the spacecraft for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE. The 12U CubeSat includes a radio tower on top that extends its size from a traditional 12U form factor. CAPSTONE will not go directly to the Moon but instead, follow a "ballistic lunar transfer" that will take it out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning into lunar orbit. That transfer, which will take about four months to complete, is designed to save propellant, making the mission feasible for such a small spacecraft. The CAPSTONE payload and its software are owned and operated by Advanced Space for NASA.
"Terran Orbital is thrilled to have built and now shipped the CAPSTONE spacecraft," said Terran Orbital Co-Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell. "The technological and social implications of the Artemis program are groundbreaking. We are delighted to contribute the spacecraft to such a monumental mission and look forward to continuing our partnerships with NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space."
"The CAPSTONE mission is a truly monumental moment for small spacecraft exploration," said Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck. "Only a short number of years ago it wouldn’t have been feasible to conduct a dedicated launch for a CubeSat to lunar orbit. Thanks to the Electron launch vehicle and Photon spacecraft, we’re bringing the Moon within reach for smallsats. We could not be more excited to partner with the teams at Advanced Space, Terran Orbital, and NASA to make this historic mission possible and pave the way for the Artemis program."
"Getting to this point has been an exhilarating 2.5 years," said Advanced Space Chief Executive Officer Bradley Cheetham. "We are proud of what this combined industry and government team has accomplished. Through this process, we have already learned a tremendous amount. As we get closer to launch, we are reminded that CAPSTONE is just the beginning of laying the groundwork for the sustainable exploration and development of the Moon."
"CAPSTONE is a great example of how NASA and industry working together makes ambitious exploration possible," said NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Jim Reuter. "It's incredibly exciting to see this trailblazing small satellite start its journey to the Moon."
As a pathfinder for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE will help reduce the risk for future spacecraft by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). Its location at a precise balance point in the gravities of the Earth and the Moon offers stability for long-term missions like Gateway and requires minimal energy to maintain. CAPSTONE’s orbit also establishes a location that is an ideal staging area for missions to the Moon and beyond.