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While we were all looking upward in hopes of catching fireworks this weekend, the team at Rocket Lab had their eyes on the cosmos for a much different reason.
The Long Beach-based company hit a very American milestone on July 4, successfully launching its first deep space mission by sending a NASA craft into lunar orbit on its reusable Electron rocket. The mission marked the first step towards getting U.S. boots back on the moon within the next two years as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
Artemis is the space agency’s bid to put a woman and person of color on the moon by 2024, with the goal of putting the USA back on top of space exploration. We haven't had someone step foot on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.
The government’s increased reliance on private space companies and startups to take it to the next level of the stratosphere is becoming more apparent as these missions progress.
SpaceX galvanized the charge towards reusable rockets and its low launch price continues to stiff-arm legacy government contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin out of valuable NASA contracts. Now, a cohort of startups, many propelled by ex-SpaceX talent, are looking to do the same to Musk.
Rocket Lab’s focus is on getting payloads to orbit using the least amount of energy possible, which makes the price “ridiculously cheap,” according to CEO Peter Beck – an advantage NASA simply didn’t have half a century ago.
NASA wants the spacecraft, nicknamed CAPSTONE (breakdown on that acronym here), to test out a new orbit around the moon which basically takes the path of a long oval, all the while sending back data to researchers. This fact-finding mission is key to NASA’s ambition to launch a mini-lunar space station called Gateway in the same orbit in coming years, which would support life on the Moon after Artemis gets underway.
Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket with a second, smaller craft called the Photon carrying the CAPSTONE craft from its New Zealand outpost June 28. Photon flew through space for about a week before wrenching itself from the Earth’s gravitational pull and sending the 55-pound satellite hurtling towards the moon.
The mission still isn’t completely in the clear – NASA warned earlier today that it lost contact with the CAPSTONE craft after a communications hiccup but was “optimistic” it could fix the issue.
Rocket Lab has more big launches coming up, including sending twin customized Photon spacecraft to orbit Mars as part of NASA’s upcoming ESCAPADE mission and a private mission to Venus by 2023.
“The CAPSTONE mission marks the beginning of humanity’s return to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis program and we’re incredibly proud that Rocket Lab has played a key role in that,” Beck stated on July 4. “We pushed Electron and Photon to their limits and proved it’s possible to do big missions with small spacecraft.”— Samson Amore
The program, a combined effort from the city—a local venture firm and Cal State University, Long Beach—welcomes its fourth cohort of startups from around the world to participate in a hybrid of virtual and in-person sessions.
Social media companies are often accused of hosting harmful content, but it’s very hard to successfully sue them. A new lawsuit blaming TikTok for the deaths of two children takes a different approach, claiming the app is a defective product.
TikTok Shop, which the Culver City-based video sharing app launched in the UK last year, used QVC-style livestreams to let companies and influencers sell products. But internal issues and poor sales led many to drop out of the program.
What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
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- A look at how L.A.'s 'digital twin' emissions-reducing technology will roll out.
- TikTok star Griffin Johnson gets the lead in a new feature film..
- A look at how the 1982 sci-fi film "Tron" impacted technology and filmmaking.