NASA Ames's feature CAPSTONE’s CubeSat Prepares for Lunar Flight says

CAPSTONE will use a hydrazine-fueled propulsion system during most of its three- to four- month journey to the Moon. This line of propulsion system, developed by Stellar Exploration Inc. of San Luis Obispo, California, is a recently developed and flight-proven system developed for use on CubeSats. The team recently completed a fueling and final test-fire of CAPSTONE’s propulsion system at Stellar Exploration’s facility and is integrating the system with the spacecraft.

But before CAPSTONE fires its own thrusters, Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will launch the mission from Earth carrying the CAPSTONE spacecraft integrated onto its new Lunar Photon upper stage/spacecraft. For the mission, Lunar Photon will serve as an upper stage to get CAPSTONE to a highly efficient ballistic lunar transfer trajectory designed by Advanced Space of Colorado. About seven days after launch, after a series of orbit raising maneuvers and the final trans-lunar injection burn, Photon will release CAPSTONE. After the deep space, low energy transfer, the CAPSTONE spacecraft will insert itself into the near rectilinear halo orbit. At the same time, Lunar Photon will continue to a separate orbit for its safe disposal.

Question: After inserting CAPSTONE into a "highly efficient ballistic lunar transfer trajectory" to what separate orbit will it go for safe disposal, and how will this be done?

  1. What "separate orbit"?
  2. Safe disposal where? How?

1 Answer 1


In a Scott Manley video interview with Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck they show this high level Con Ops poster about the CAPSTONE mission:

CAPSTONE Rocket Lab Con Ops

Video cued at 30:30 where they begin discussing Lunar Photon (aka Photon Interplanetary) & CAPSTONE:

The key step appears to be step 7:


Photon performs a trajectory correction maneuver to set it on a course for a lunar flyby, then interplanetary space. (This is a secondary mission objective)

CAPSTONE is (at Step 7 in the Con Ops) already on course for a lunar flyby, though at an unknown distance. Presumably the TCM will reduce Photon's lunar flyby distance and possibly add some extra speed to reach "interplanetary space".

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ yep, mucho gracias! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7, 2022 at 2:17

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