New Zealand says it’s set to ‘star’ in NASA’s return to the moon

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New Zealand is trumpeting its role in a plan to return humans to the Moon, saying it is set to star in NASA’s Capstone mission that will test the orbit for a lunar space station.

Rocket Lab has announced it will launch a satellite from Mahia, New Zealand, to test the lunar orbit for Gateway, a planned Moon-orbiting outpost that will provide astronauts with access to the lunar surface. Separately, New Zealand’s government said Monday it has signed an agreement with NASA to conduct new research to track spacecraft approaching and orbiting the Moon.

“The New Zealand space sector is set to star in NASA’s Capstone Moon mission,” said Andrew Johnson, manager of the New Zealand Space Agency. Launching into lunar orbit from New Zealand is “a significant milestone,” while the new research “will be increasingly important as more countries and private actors send spacecraft to the Moon,” he said.

NASA’s Artemis Program plans to return humans to the lunar surface as early as 2025, renewing human exploration of the Moon and progressing toward the exploration of Mars. It plans to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.

Rocket Lab said it could launch the CubeSat satellite as soon as Tuesday, with the launch window open through July 27.

The announcement comes the day after NASA launched the first of three sounding rockets from a facility in Australia’s Northern Territory, the first time the space agency has used a commercial launchpad outside of the US in its more than 50-year history.

The three rocket launches will take place between June 26 and July 12 from the Arnhem Space Centre, a site which is privately-owned and run by Equatorial Launch Australia.

“Space is really going through a renaissance,” Enrico Palermo, the head of the Australian Space Agency, told Bloomberg Television Monday. “We’ve seen entities like SpaceX rapidly drop the cost of getting technology to space. The barriers to do stuff in space are so, so much lower.”New Zealand’s agreement with NASA will see a University of Canterbury-led research team, which includes contributors from the University of Auckland and the University of New South Wales in Australia, attempt to track 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.

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