A tiny NASA spacecraft launches to test out a new orbit around the Moon

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An artistic rendering of CAPSTONE in orbit around the Moon | Image: NASA

Early this morning, a small NASA spacecraft about the size of a microwave embarked on the beginning of a four-month-long journey to the Moon, where it will eventually insert itself into a unique, elongated lunar orbit that no NASA mission has visited before. The spacecraft’s goal is simple: test out this particular orbit and see what it’s like. That’s because it’s the same orbit that lunar-bound astronauts could use in the coming decade.

This distinctive orbit is called “near rectilinear halo orbit,” or NRHO for short. It’s a special seven-day path that spacecraft can take around the Moon, bringing vehicles relatively close to the lunar surface for one day before they swing out far from the Moon for the other six.

NASA is considering…

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