SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.

A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.

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The Small Businesses Behind CAPSTONE Are Paving Our Path to the Moon

CAPSTONE in orbit around the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — The upcoming Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will be the first spacecraft to fly a unique orbit around the Moon that will be used for Gateway, NASA’s future Moon-orbiting outpost. Gateway is an international collaboration working with commercial partners to establish a long-term human presence in deep space. Similarly, CAPSTONE – a mission owned and operated by Advanced Space, LLC in Westminster, Colorado – is made possible by collaborations with small businesses across the country, showing how NASA works with innovators in its future exploration endeavors.

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Rocket Lab Prepares to Launch CAPSTONE Mission to the Moon for NASA

Rocket Lab will launch a microwave oven-sized CubeSat dubbed CAPSTONE to a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon, blazing a new efficient deep space route that NASA hopes to use for future human spaceflight missions

Electron Launch Vehicle at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 for the NASA CAPSTONE lunar mission. (Image Credit: Business Wire)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab USA, Inc. PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, is preparing to launch a satellite to the Moon for NASA as early as June 27th.

The launch will take place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The launch window opens 09:50 UTC on June 27th (21:50 NZST, June 27th). Back-up opportunities are available through July 27th to accommodate potential weather or technical delays to the launch.

Designed and built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, and owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. Researchers expect this orbit to be a gravitational sweet spot in space – where the pull of gravity from Earth and the Moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit – allowing physics to do most of the work of keeping a spacecraft in orbit around the Moon. NASA has big plans for this unique type of orbit. The agency hopes to park bigger spacecraft – including the lunar-orbiting space station Gateway – in an NRHO around the Moon, providing astronauts with a base from which to descend to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

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Rocket Lab Launch of CAPSTONE Mission Delayed

A project funded by NASA’s Small Business Technology Transfer program could help improve the efficiency of solar cells for space missions and use on Earth. Here, a team member installs solar panels onto the CAPSTONE spacecraft – short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – before its launch to the Moon. (Image Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart)

NASA Mission Update

NASA, Rocket Lab, and Advanced Space are no longer targeting June 13 for the launch of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission to the Moon. Flight software is being updated. A revised schedule will be provided as soon as possible.

Since arriving in New Zealand, CAPSTONE was successfully fueled and integrated with the Lunar Photon upper stage by teams from Rocket Lab, Terran Orbital, and Stellar Exploration. CAPSTONE and Photon have been encapsulated in the payload fairing.

Varda Space Industries Orders Fourth Photon Spacecraft from Rocket Lab to Enable In-Space Manufacturing

Photon system (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The order for the Photon spacecraft, designed and manufactured by Rocket Lab, follows a previous bulk-order by Varda for three Photons to enable manufacture of high-value products in space and return to Earth

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, and Varda Space Industries (“Varda”), the world’s first In-space manufacturing and hypersonic Earth re-entry logistics company, today announced that Varda will procure a fourth Photon spacecraft. The deal follows on a previous bulk-order by Varda in August 2021 for three Photon spacecraft from Rocket Lab.

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NASA, Partners to Host CAPSTONE Prelaunch Media Teleconference

CAPSTONE (Credit: Terran Orbital)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will host a media teleconference with partners Advanced Space and Rocket Lab at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 25, in advance of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) launch, scheduled for no earlier than Tuesday, May 31. The teleconference audio will be livestreamed on NASA’s website.

Participants will discuss and answer questions about CAPSTONE launch preparations, its technology demonstrations, and how CAPSTONE will serve as a pathfinder for Gateway and future Artemis missions.  

The teleconference participants include:

  • Christopher Baker, Small Spacecraft Technology program executive, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate
  • Bradley Cheetham, Advanced Space CEO/principal investigator, CAPSTONE
  • Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO
  • Nujoud Merancy, chief, Exploration Mission Planning Office, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston

The microwave oven-size CubeSat will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique lunar orbit that has never been flown before. The orbit, formally known as a near rectilinear halo orbit, is an elongated orbit located at a precise balance point between the gravities of Earth and the Moon. CAPSTONE will help reduce risk of future long-term deep space missions – like the Moon-orbiting outpost Gateway – by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of this orbit. 

For more information about CAPSTONE, visit:

https://go.nasa.gov/3PteW7P

Rocket Lab Reports Increased Revenue From Space Systems, $26.7 Million First Quarter Net Loss

Electron launches on May 3, 2022. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rocket Lab reported a $26.7 million first quarter loss on revenues of $40.7 million, with space systems such as satellites producing the majority of revenues rather than the launches for which the company is best known. Adjusted EBITDA loss for the quarter was $7.98 million.

Rocket Lab earned $34.1 million in revenues from space systems. That amount represented 84% of first quarter revenues, an increase of 1,873 percent from the first quarter of 2021.

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CAPSTONE Charts a New Path for NASA’s Moon-Orbiting Space Station

NASA Mission Update

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — It will have equilibrium. Poise. Balance. This pathfinding CubeSat will practically be able to kick back and rest in a gravitational sweet spot in space – where the pull of gravity from Earth and the Moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit – allowing physics to do most of the work of keeping it in orbit around the Moon.

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