NASA CAPSTONE CubeSat will be launched by Rocket Lab

NASA has announced the recipient of its CAPSTONE CubeSat contract, revealing that the California-based company Rocket Lab will provide the launch services for this particular mission. Rocket Lab is commercially licensed by the FAA as a launch provider, according to NASA, which says that its CAPSTONE CubeSat weighs only 55lbs and is destined for cislunar orbit around the Moon.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat will spend three months traveling to the Moon after it launches on an Electron rocket from NASA's facility in Virginia. The Photon platform will be used to boost the CubeSat into trans-lunar injection, popping it free of the Earth's gravity.

Once CAPSTONE arrives at the Moon, it will be pulled into a near-rectilinear halo orbit that sends it over the celestial body's poles. According to NASA, it will be using this CubeSat as a 'pathfinder' for the future Gateway lunar space station, which is itself an important part of the space agency's Artemis plans.

NASA LSP program integration manager for CAPSTONE Ana Rivera said:

NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) is pleased to provide a low-cost launch service for CAPSTONE and to work with Rocket Lab on this inaugural NASA launch from their new launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

NASA is targeting this cislunar orbit, which lasts seven days, for the Gateway. The CubeSat will help reduce some 'uncertainties' about the orbit. As for Rocket Lab, the company launching the spacecraft, NASA has awarded its a launch contract worth $9.95 million. A team in California will start building the spacecraft soon.