Phew, NASA’s CAPSTONE is no Longer Tumbling in Space

Artist rendition of the CAPSTONE mission. Credit: Advanced Space.

Engineers with the trouble-plagued CAPSTONE mission to the Moon have made progress in stabilizing the spacecraft. A month ago, the microwave-oven-sized CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) began tumbling and lost its orientation in space. But now, after weeks of painstaking and patient troubleshooting, team members successfully executed an operation to stop the spacecraft’s spin. NASA says this clears a major hurdle in returning the spacecraft to normal operations.

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Rocket Lab is Sending its own Mission to Venus to Search for Life

In a recent study published in Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics, the private space company, Rocket Lab, outlines a plan to send their high-energy Photon spacecraft to Venus in May 2023 with the primary goal of searching for life within the Venusian atmosphere. The planet Venus has become a recent hot topic in the field of astrobiology, which makes the high-energy Photon mission that much more exciting.

Rocket Lab hopes to build off their recent successful launch of the CAPSTONE mission using its Photon satellite bus, and consists of a CubeSat designed to study the near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon and its applications for long-term missions such as Gateway.

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Hazegrayart Shows how Rocket Lab's Reusable Neutron Rocket Could Work

Credit: Rocket Lab

There’s little doubt that we live in a new Space Age, defined by increasing access, greater competition, and the commercial space industry. The titans of this industry are well known and have even become household names. There are old warhorses like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance and fast-rising stars like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, and others. But New Zealand and California-based company Rocket Lab has also made a name for itself in recent years, moving from low-cost expendable rocket launches to reusable rockets.

In particular, their new Neutron Rocket design has been turning some heads since it first debuted in late 2021. The most recent design of this rocket features some very interesting features, which include a new engine, a new shell, and a “Hungry-Hippo” reusable fairing built from advanced carbon composites. Beginning in 2024, Rocket Lab hopes to conduct regular launches with Neutron to service the growing “satellite megaconstellation” market. Thanks to an animator who goes by the handle Hazegrayart, we now have a video of what this might look like.

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Rocket Lab Launches NASA’s CAPSTONE Mission to the Moon

An image of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, launching aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand Tuesday, June 28, 2022. Credits: Rocket Lab

A microwave oven–sized cubesat launched to space today from New Zealand by commercial company Rocket Lab and their Electron rocket. The small satellite will conduct tests to make sure the unique lunar orbit for NASA’s future Lunar Gateway is actually stable.  

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission launched at 5:55 a.m. EDT (09:55 UTC) on Tuesday June 28 from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. The Electron has now flown 27 times with 24 successes and 3 failures.

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They Did It! Rocket Lab Uses Copter to Catch (and Release) a Rocket

Rocket Lab Electron launch
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket rises from its New Zealand launch pad. Credit: Rocket Lab via Twitter

Rocket Lab has just joined SpaceX in the club of space companies that can launch an orbital-class rocket booster and bring it back alive.

In a sense, the California-based company one-upped SpaceX by having a helicopter snag the first-stage booster of its Electron rocket with a cable and a hook as it floated past on the end of a parachute, 6,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

So what if the pilots of the customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter had to release the booster moments later, due to concerns about the way their load was behaving as it swung from the hook?

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Rocket Lab Shows off its new Reusable Neutron Rocket, due for Launch in 2024

Credit: Rocket Lab

On December 2nd, 2021, the commercial space company Rocket Lab unveiled the detailed architecture of their Neutron rocket for the first time. In a live-streamed event, the company showcased all the new elements that will make this “megaconstellation” launcher a serious contender in the coming years. These include updated details about the rocket’s design, materials, propulsion, and reusability architecture.

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NASA Will be Sending two More Missions to Mars in 2024, Costing Just $80 Million

One of the biggest ongoing changes in space exploration is the introduction of commercial methods into the field.  Commercial launch providers like RocketLab and SpaceX have fundamentally changed the way the industry does business.  Now researchers are taking their “move fast and break things” approach to another part of the industry – actual mission design.  

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Electron Rocket’s 13th Launch Failed, Destroying its Satellite Payload

Launch! Electron's inaugural flight. Credit: Rocket Lab.

This past weekend (June 5th), the California and New Zealand-based aerospace company Rocket Lab suffered a terrible accident. During the 13th launch of their Electron rocket, an anomaly caused the second stage of the rocket to explode in midair. Luckily, there were no injuries, but the explosion did claim the mission payload, which consisted of satellites and commercial payloads for three different companies.

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Rocket Lab was Able to Catch Falling Inert Rocket Stage With a Helicopter, Continuing Their Path to Reusability

Launch! Electron's inaugural flight. Credit: Rocket Lab.

In the summer of 2017, the company Rocket Lab officially tossed its hat into the commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) ring with the first test flights of their two-stage Electron Rocket. Dedicated to providing cost-effective launch services for the small satellite market, the company began conducting commercial launches from their complexes in New Zealand and California using the lightweight Electron.

Looking to cut the costs associated with individual launches further, Rocket Lab has decided to pursue reusability as well. In early March, before the isolation orders were issued, the company achieved a major milestone when it conducted a successful mid-air recovery of the test stage of an Electron Rocket – which involved a helicopter catching the test stage after its parachute deployed.

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