Watch: Rocket Lab Aims for the Moon

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Tuesday appears to be the day Rocket Lab will send a spacecraft into orbit of the Moon, leading to a series of minor delays.

On Tuesday evening, the New Zealand-based company confirmed it was still aiming for a 9.55pm launch from its base on the Māhia Peninsula near Gisborne, tweeting images of its upright Electron rocket on the launch pad.

The Capstone mission will see Rocket Lab attempt to place a small satellite in orbit around the Moon for Nasa in what the US space agency hopes will be a step towards its subsequent launch of a crewed lunar space station and other missions on the surface of the Moon and potentially Mars.

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The launch of the Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft that will carry the Capstone satellite on its 3.5-month journey to the Moon has been repeatedly delayed from May 31, including for a software update.

The company had said the latest delay, from Monday evening, was to allow “final systems checks”.

Weather can also cause launches to be postponed, and Rocket Lab has opened a new launch window through July 27 in the event of further mishaps.

But the evening forecast for Gisborne remains encouraging, with light winds and good weather expected.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck said earlier this month that “launching Māhia” to the Moon would be a historic moment.

“It is a mission that all New Zealanders can and should be proud of. We are going to the moon and so few countries can say that.

Rocket Lab is on track to aim for the Moon on Tuesday night.

Provided

Rocket Lab is on track to aim for the Moon on Tuesday night.

The Department for Business, Science and Innovation (MBIE) said on Monday it had helped facilitate a separate research agreement between NASA and academics from the universities of Canterbury, Auckland and New South Wales.

A team led by University of Canterbury associate professor Stephen Weddell will attempt to track Capstone and predict its orbital trajectory from observatories in Tekapo and Canberra.

MBIE was involved because Nasa wanted there to be a government relationship in its research agreements, but it was not involved in the funding agreements, Johnson said.

He noted that Nasa has a budget of around US$30 billion (NZ$47 billion) for its Artemis Moon program.

“I hope this is the start of what could be a greater collaboration.”

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