NASA satellite orbits Earth and heads to the moon

A satellite about the size of a microwave oven broke free from Earth's orbit on Monday.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
07 July 2022 Thursday 18:20
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NASA satellite orbits Earth and heads to the moon

A satellite about the size of a microwave oven broke free from Earth's orbit on Monday. It is now heading toward the moon. This is the latest step in NASA’s plan to send astronauts back to the lunar surface.

The Capstone satellite has already made an unusual journey. Rocket Lab launched the satellite six days ago from New Zealand's Mahia peninsula in one of their small Electron rockets. The satellite will need to travel for four more months before it reaches the moon. It cruises using very little energy.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck said to The Associated Press that it was difficult to express his excitement.

It will probably take some time for it to sink in. He said that it was a difficult project that took us two and a half years to complete. It's incredible to watch it all come together tonight, and to see the spacecraft make its way to the Moon.

Beck stated that the low cost of the mission (NASA put it at $32.7million) marked the beginning of a new age in space exploration.

Beck stated that a rocket and spacecraft can now be purchased for tens to millions of dollars. "It's possible to take you to Mars, asteroids, Venus, and the moon," Beck said. It's an incredible capability that has never been seen before.

If all goes well, Capstone will be the first satellite to orbit the moon in a new orbit called a near-rectilinear orbit. This is a shape similar to an egg. One end of the orbit passes close to the moon while the other ends are far away.

NASA will eventually place a space station called Gateway in orbital path. From there, astronauts can descend onto the moon's surface under its Artemis program.

Beck stated that the new orbit has the advantage of reducing fuel consumption and allowing the satellite (or a space station) to remain in constant contact with Earth.

The Electron rocket launched from New Zealand on June 28th. It was carrying Photon, a second spacecraft. Photon separated after nine minutes. Photon carried the satellite for six days, with its engines firing regularly to lift it farther and further from Earth.

Photon was able to escape Earth's gravitational pull Monday with a final engine explosion. The satellite then set off on its journey. Now, the plan is for the satellite of 25 kilograms (55 lb) to go far beyond the moon before returning into the new lunar orbit Nov. To make some planned course corrections, the satellite will only use a small amount of fuel.

Beck stated that they would decide what to do about Photon over the next few days. It had completed its tasks but still had some fuel.

Beck stated, "There are a lot of really cool missions we can actually accomplish with it."

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