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NASA's CAPSTONE cubesat launch to the moon delayed again for systems checks

A Rocket Lab Electron booster on the launch pad with the CAPSTONE mission and purple clouds.
Rocket Lab's Electron booster carrying NASA's CAPSTONE cubesat to the moon stands atop is launch site on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula for a June 27, 2022 launch. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

NASA has called off plans to launch a small cubesat to the moon on Monday (June 27) to allow more time to check its Rocket Lab booster for flight. 

The U.S. space agency announced today that it was no longer targeting a Monday launch for the new CAPSTONE cubesat to the moon on an Electron booster built by Rocket Lab. The mission, led by the company Advanced Space, was scheduled to launch from a pad on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand at 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT) on Monday. 

"NASA, Rocket Lab and Advanced Space are standing down from the June 27 launch attempt for the CAPSTONE mission to the moon to allow Rocket Lab to perform final systems checks," NASA officials wrote in a June 26 update (opens in new tab). "Teams are evaluating weather and other factors to determine the date of the next launch attempt."

Related: NASA's CAPSTONE moon mission to go where no cubesat has gone before

The next possible launch date for the microwave oven-sized CAPSTONE is Tuesday, June 28, but NASA and its partners could launch the mission anytime before July 27 and still ensure the cubesat reaches the moon on Nov. 13, the agency has said. The mission has been delayed repeatedly since 2021, first due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues and later due to the need for more checks on the cubesat and its Rocket Lab booster.

CAPSTONE, or the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, is a small, 55-pound (25 kilograms) spacecraft designed to test a novel path around the moon called a near rectilinear halo orbit. The orbit, which follows an extremely elliptical path around the moon, is the same one NASA hopes to use for its planned Gateway space station for astronauts as part of the Artemis program.

Under the mission, CAPSTONE will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron booster and use the company's Photon stage to help make its way to the moon. It is Rocket Lab's first deep-space mission with Photon. 

NASA's Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) cubesat is seen during assembly with its solar arrays unfurled. The 55-pound cubesat is about the size of a microwave oven. (Image credit: NASA/Dominic Hart)

If all goes well, CAPSTONE will separate from its Photon ride six days after launch and slowly make its way to the moon over about four months. Once in its final orbit, the spacecraft is expected to spend at least six months performing navigation and communications experiments as part of its $30 million mission. It will fly as close as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the moon and as far out as 43,500 miles (70,000 km) from the lunar surface. 

"The next launch opportunity within the current period is on June 28," NASA officials wrote in the update. "CAPSTONE's trajectory design means that the spacecraft will arrive at its lunar orbit on Nov. 13 regardless of launch date within the current period, which offers launch opportunities every day through July 27."

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Tariq Malik
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.