Rocket Lab's first mission to the Moon
Tuesday morning at 5:50am EDT, Rocket Lab's Electron rocket will launch from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, carrying CAPSTONE, a payload for NASA. Electron will launch CAPSTONE on their Photon Spacecraft and place it in a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit around the Moon. Over the next 5 days, Rocket Lab's Photon spacecraft will perform a series of burns to raise the orbit until it can set CAPSTONE on course for the Moon on the 6th day.
This is a big step for Rocket Lab as it will show its capabilities of sending small payloads to the Moon as a small-satellite launch vehicle. CAPSTONE is serving as a pathfinder for the Gateway space station for the Artemis program, enabling Astronauts to return to the Lunar surface again, this time to stay.
It will take 4 months for CAPSTONE to reach its final orbit around the Moon, and will continue to orbit for 6 months minimum to understand this specific orbit. It will help NASA understand the requirements for Gateway in this orbit to sustain and serve as a depot for crew transport to and from the Lunar surface and back to Earth.
Rocket Lab's livestream for the launch will start ~45 minutes prior to liftoff at https://www.rocketlabusa.com/live-stream