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Terran Orbital Corporation, a global leader in satellite solutions, primarily serving the United States and Allied aerospace and defense industries, today announced the successful deployment of the CAPSTONE spacecraft from a Rocket Lab Lunar Photon into a Lunar Transfer Orbit. The Terran Orbital designed, built, and integrated Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE, is flying a pathfinding mission to the moon in support of NASA’s historic Artemis program. With deployment complete, Terran Orbital will now commence the satellite’s mission operations. CAPSTONE is owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA.
As a pathfinder for a Moon-orbiting Gateway outpost built by NASA’s commercial and international partners, CAPSTONE will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by verifying the dynamics of a unique Lunar orbit and will validate innovative navigation technologies. CAPSTONE is the first satellite to demonstrate operations of a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. This demonstration would typically be impossible for a 12U form factor such as CAPSTONE, roughly the size of a microwave, – but a radio tower antenna combined with a low-energy “ballistic lunar transfer” extend the satellite’s capability and reach.
CAPSTONE’s deployment follows six days of orbit-raising burns around Earth aboard Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon spacecraft bus, since launching on an Electron launch vehicle from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand. The CAPSTONE spacecraft deployed from a Terran Orbital 12U Spacecraft Deployer. Post-deployment activities for CAPSTONE include spacecraft power-on, autonomously gaining attitude control, and preparation for first contact with an Earth-based communication station. In the coming days, the Terran Orbital Mission Operations team, operating from their Mission Operations Center in Irvine, CA, will be communicating with and conducting commissioning of the CAPSTONE spacecraft in close partnership with the Advanced Space Navigation and Payload Operation teams as well as NASA’s Deep Space Network.
CAPSTONE will continue a fuel-conserving ballistic lunar transfer, traveling as far as 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, before returning closer to the Earth and Moon for the spacecraft’s propulsive NRHO Insertion Maneuver. NRHO Insertion, and all other propulsive maneuvers on CAPSTONE’s lunar transfer journey, executed by Terran Orbital’s Mission Operations team, are made possible by a Stellar Exploration hydrazine propulsion system, with maneuver design by Advanced Space. This journey will last approximately four months with NRHO arrival currently anticipated for November 13th.
“Terran Orbital develops satellites that simultaneously solve today’s problems while creating the solutions for tomorrow,” said Terran Orbital Co-Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell. “CAPSTONE is a true pathfinder mission that will illuminate and finetune crucial technologies as we enter this New Space generation. Terran Orbital is proud to have brought CAPSTONE to fruition alongside NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space – and we look forward to continuing to work with our partners across the aerospace and defense industry as Terran Orbital designs, builds, integrates, and operates life-changing satellites.”
“With the capabilities being demonstrated from all our industry partners, this mission is a 'capstone' achievement for small launch and small spacecraft,” said Justin Treptow, Deputy Program Executive for NASA's Small Spacecraft technology program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Supporting Artemis and demonstrating navigation solutions in cis-lunar space really showcases the utility and speed of small, highly-capable teams of industry partners.”
“CAPSTONE’s spacecraft separation with a CubeSat on its way to the Moon is an incredible industry shaping event in space exploration,” said Advanced Space Chief Executive Officer and CAPSTONE Principal Investigator Bradley Cheetham. “It is only fitting to be on Independence Day. Congratulations to all our partners and people behind CAPSTONE. Advanced Space is honored to lead this historic mission for NASA. We are just getting started, in the sustainable exploration, development, and settlement of space.”
“Going to the Moon is a team effort and we couldn’t have asked for better mission partners for CAPSTONE,” said Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck. “With the launch phase of the mission now complete, we wish Advanced Space, Terran Orbital and NASA every success with the remainder of this ground-breaking mission.”