NASA’s Capstone spacecraft, which is about the size of a microwave oven, has successfully left Earth’s orbit and headed for the Moon.
It’s the latest step in America’s plan to again land astronauts on the lunar surface.
“Capstone” (CAPSTONE – Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – an experiment for an autonomous positioning system for technological operations and navigation between the Earth and the Moon) was launched last week from the launch pad on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand with an Electron launch vehicle” of the company “Rocket Lab”.
It will take about four months for the rover to reach the Moon as it runs on minimal energy.
Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press that he was having difficulty putting his excitement into words. “It was a project that took us two to two and a half years and was incredibly, incredibly complex to do,” he said. “So to see … this spacecraft on its way to the moon, that’s … epic.”
Peter Beck said the relatively low cost of the mission – NASA pegged it at US$32.7 million – marked the beginning of a new era in space exploration.
“For a few tens of millions of US dollars, there is now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the moon, to asteroids, to Venus, to Mars,” he declared. “This is … a capability that has never been before existed.”
If the rest of the mission is successful, the Capstone will be sending critical information for months.
The device should help calculate the orbit of NASA’s future lunar station, “Gateway”. From it, astronauts can land on the Moon’s surface as part of the Artemis program.
NASA announced in the spring of 2019 the program to return astronauts to the Moon. A crew is scheduled to be sent around Earth’s natural satellite in 2024.
A year after, the US space agency plans to attempt the first lunar landing in decades. Astronauts last went on the Moon in 1972 as part of NASA’s Apollo missions.