A rendering of Terran Orbital's Capstone satellite by the moon.
Courtesy of Terran Orbital

Not a lot of people paid attention on Nov. 13, 2022, when the microwave-oven-size Capstone spacecraft began orbiting the moon. But they should have: astronauts will follow Capstone’s lead. Built by Terran Orbital, Capstone in May completed one of its primary missions: operating for six months in a novel, highly elliptical orbit that NASA’s Gateway lunar space station will fly when it is launched at the end of 2024. A pioneer in the field of small satellites, Terran has established a robotic assembly facility that dramatically slashes production timelines. “By the end of next year,” says Marc Bell, co-founder and CEO, “you can order a satellite on the first of the month and we can deliver it to you on the 30th.” And the company hopes to prevent orbital litter: its earth-­orbiting satellites are designed to re-enter the atmosphere and vaporize at the end of their useful lives.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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