New Zealand is making a big deal out of its involvement in the plan to send people back to the Moon, claiming that it will play a key role in NASA’s Capstone mission, which will test the orbit for a lunar space station.
A satellite will be launched by Rocket Lab from Mahia, New Zealand, to evaluate the lunar orbit for Gateway, a planned outpost that will orbit the moon and give astronauts access to the lunar surface. Separately, the New Zealand government announced Monday that it had reached a deal with NASA to carry out fresh research to monitor spacecraft as they approach and orbit the Moon.
The New Zealand space sector is set to star in NASA’s Capstone Moon mission, said Andrew Johnson, manager of the New Zealand Space Agency. Launching into lunar orbit from New Zealand is a significant milestone, while the new research will be increasingly important as more countries and private actors send spacecraft to the Moon, he said.
By bringing people back to the lunar surface as early as 2025, NASA’s Artemis Program hopes to revive Moon exploration while advancing Mars exploration. It intends to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and deploy the first woman and person of color on the Moon.
The launch window for the CubeSat satellite, according to Rocket Lab, is open through July 27. The launch might happen as soon as Tuesday.
The announcement was made the day after NASA launched the first of three sounding rockets from a facility in Australia’s Northern Territory. This was the first time in NASA’s more than 50-year history that the space agency used a commercial launchpad outside of the US.
The three rocket launches will occur at the privately owned Arnhem Space Centre, which is managed by Equatorial Launch Australia, between June 26 and July 12.
Space is really going through a renaissance, said Enrico Palermo, the head of the Australian Space Agency. We’ve seen entities like SpaceX rapidly drop the cost of getting technology to space. The barriers to do stuff in space are so, so much lower.
In accordance with the agreement between New Zealand and NASA, a research team led by the University of Canterbury that also includes members from the Universities of Auckland and New South Wales in Australia will try to track spacecraft from observatories in Tekapo and Canberra.
The researchers want to compare their observations and techniques for predicting spacecraft trajectories to NASA’s Capstone mission data for the Moon and within their lunar orbits.