Nasa has selected the US Federal Aviation Administration-licensed commercial launch provider Rocket Lab for a small satellite mission.

Under the $9.95m firm-fixed-price launch contract, Rocket Lab will launch the 55lb CubeSat onboard its Electron rocket from Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Named the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), the satellite will act as a pathfinder for the Gateway lunar spaceship, a part of Nasa’s Artemis programme.

The satellite is managed by Nasa’s Small Spacecraft Technology programme within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said: “Small satellites like CAPSTONE will play a crucial role in supporting the return of human missions to the Moon and we’re proud to be supporting Nasa in this unique and pivotal mission.

“As a dedicated mission on Electron, we’re able to provide Nasa with complete control over every aspect of launch and mission design for CAPSTONE, something typically only available to much larger spacecraft on larger launch vehicles. In the same way, we opened access to low-Earth orbit for small satellites, we’re proud to be bringing the Moon within reach to enable research and exploration.”

Rocket Lab will use its Photon configurable satellite bus platform to deliver CAPSTONE to a trans-lunar injection.

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The CAPSTONE’s propulsion system will take it to the orbital area near and around the Moon called a cislunar orbit. It is expected to take around three months to enter its target orbit.

The mission is expected to be launched next year. It will also be the second lunar mission to launch from Virginia.

In September last year, Nasa awarded the development and operation contract of the satellite to US-based Advanced Space.

Construction and testing of the spacecraft will commence after a final design review, which is expected this month. Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems will be responsible for this stage.