NZ space sector set to star in Moon mission

The MOA Dome and the Milky Way. Photo: Fraser Gunn/Supplied.

The New Zealand space sector is set to star in NASA’s CAPSTONE moon mission.

Rocket Lab will be launching a satellite to the Moon from New Zealand in June, and the lift-off of a separate NASA-NZ lunar research project, says New Zealand Space Agency Manager Andrew Johnson.

Rocket Lab will launch its historic lunar mission from Mahia, New Zealand in support of NASA’s Artemis Program which plans to return humans to the lunar surface, renewing human exploration of the Moon and progressing towards human exploration of Mars.

"Huge congratulations to the Rocket Lab team for working to make this historic mission possible. To have the opportunity to launch from Mahia into lunar orbit as part of the United States’ Artemis program is a significant milestone for Rocket Lab and the New Zealand space sector.

"It is testament to the commitment, ingenuity and perseverance of Rocket Lab in continuing to lead and shine a light on New Zealand’s space capabilities on the global stage," says Andrew.

Known as the CAPSTONE mission, the lunar journey will see Rocket Lab launch a CubeSat owned and operated by spacecraft owner and operator Advanced Space of Colorado, USA, to the Moon to test the lunar orbit for Gateway, a planned Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program.

The CAPSTONE Mission partners (NASA, Rocket Lab and Advanced Space) are currently targeting a June launch.

The launch window remains open until July 27.

Cislunar Space Situational Awareness research with NASA

Separately, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has signed a bespoke agreement with NASA that has enabled a University of Canterbury-led research collaboration with NASA to track Moon-orbiting spacecraft, as part of NASA’s CAPSTONE mission.

"The research aims to help validate a research approach to create cislunar space situational awareness capability - which is a way of tracking spacecraft orbiting the Moon or between high Earth orbit and the Moon," says Andrew.

"This tracking will be increasingly important as more countries and private actors send spacecraft to the Moon."

The research team which includes contributors from the University of Auckland and the University of New South Wales, Australia, will attempt to track the spacecraft from observatories in Tekapo and Canberra.

The scientists intend to validate their observations and algorithms to predict spacecraft trajectories enroute to the Moon and within their lunar orbits against NASA’s CAPSTONE mission data.

Andrew says multiple lunar missions are already planned to launch, starting from this year. Cislunar space situational awareness also connects to the principles of the Artemis Accords which New Zealand signed last year, particularly in regard to deconfliction of space activities and mitigation of orbital debris around the Moon.

New Zealand’s participation in the Artemis Accords is helping New Zealand researchers and our space sector companies to participate in the Artemis Program.

New Zealand’s space sector is worth over $1.7 billion per annum with a space manufacturing industry that generates around $247 million per annum in revenue.

University of Canterbury collaborates with NASA on spacecraft tracking

The University of Canterbury is leading a research collaboration to track Moon-orbiting spacecraft, with assistance from NASA’s CAPSTONE mission.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has signed an agreement with NASA that has enabled a collaboration between the NASA CAPSTONE mission team and a University of Canterbury-led research team.

The University of Canterbury-led research team aims to help validate a research approach to create cislunar space situational awareness capability – which is a way of tracking spacecraft orbiting the Moon or between high Earth orbit and the Moon.

This tracking will be increasingly important as more countries and private actors send spacecraft to the Moon.

The research team is led by University of Canterbury Electrical and Computer Engineering academic Associate Professor Stephen Weddell.

“At the most basic level, we are spotting spacecraft orbiting the moon using earth-based telescopes and new innovative methods. This is a very, very early form of lunar traffic management which will become increasingly useful to help enable the safe coordination of multiple international missions focused on the sustainable exploration of the Moon,” he says.

“Our method is based on photometry and employs specialised instrumentation, such as adaptive optics, to explore the extent to which we can use the natural properties of light and maximise the capability of our optical telescope at the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory near Lake Tekapo.”

Associate Professor Weddell is already conducting some preliminary cislunar observations related to CAPSTONE at the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory.

The UC-led research team, which includes academics from the universities of Auckland and New South Wales, will attempt to track the spacecraft from the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory near Tekapo and the UNSW observatory in Canberra, Australia.

“An installation in Canberra will also be used for trans-lunar photometry. The Auckland team will employ predictive models to translate data provided by NASA into sets of coordinates to enable precise ‘pointing’ of our instrumentation,” Associate Professor Weddell says.

The scientists intend to validate their observations and algorithms to predict spacecraft trajectories enroute to the Moon and within lunar orbits against NASA’s CAPSTONE mission data.

Multiple lunar missions are already planned to launch, starting this year. Cislunar space situational awareness also connects to the principles of the Artemis Accords which New Zealand signed last year, particularly regarding deconfliction of space activities and mitigation of orbital debris around the Moon.




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