Press Release

Rocket Lab Selected by NASA to Launch Pathfinder Mission to the Moon

By SpaceRef Editor
February 14, 2020
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Rocket Lab, a space technology company and global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has been selected by NASA as the launch provider for a small satellite mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway – an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA’s Artemis program.


The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is expected to be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, CAPSTONE will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This data will help to reduce navigation uncertainties ahead of future missions for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon’s surface. 


The satellite will be launched on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle from Launch Complex 2, located within the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, USA. After launch, Rocket Lab’s high performance configurable satellite bus platform, Photon, will deliver CAPSTONE on a ballistic lunar transfer. Photon’s Curie propulsion system will allow the satellite to break free of Earth’s gravity and head to the Moon. Then, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion system to enter a cislunar orbit, which is the orbital area near and around the Moon. After launch, CAPSTONE take approximately three months to enter its target orbit and begin a six-month primary demonstration phase to understand operations in this unique orbit. The mission is targeted for launch in early 2021.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said “Small satellites like CAPSTONE will play a crucial role in supporting the return of human missions to the Moon and we’re proud to be supporting NASA in this unique and pivotal mission. As a dedicated mission on Electron, we’re able to provide NASA with complete control over every aspect of launch and mission design for CAPSTONE, something typically only available to much larger spacecraft on larger launch vehicles. In the same way we opened access to low Earth orbit for small satellites, we’re proud to be bringing the Moon within reach to enable research and exploration.” 

Supporting the mission on Electron is Space Exploration Engineering, who will contribute to mission planning, trajectory analysis, orbit determination, as well as KSAT who will provide global ground station coverage for the mission.  



Rocket Lab Media Contact:

Morgan Bailey

(+64) 27 538 9039 |


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About Rocket Lab:

Rocket Lab is the world’s leading dedicated small satellite launch provider. Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab provides end-to-end mission services, including complete satellite build and launch solutions, that provide rapid, frequent and reliable access to space. Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab has delivered 48 satellites to orbit on the Electron launch vehicle, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth observation, ship and airplane tracking, and radio communications. Headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron launch vehicle and Photon satellite platform. Electron is a full carbon-composite launch vehicle tailored for small satellites. Photon is a complete spacecraft bus solution that can be tailored for a range of missions. Together Electron and Photon offer an all-inclusive spacecraft build and launch service for Rocket Lab customers. Rocket Lab operates launch sites in Māhia, New Zealand and Wallops Island, Virginia. To learn more, visit 


SpaceRef staff editor.