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February 27, 2024

Delayed Debut: Vulcan Rocket and Peregrine Lander Push Historic Launches to January

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Dec 21, 2023

United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket and Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander are poised for their inaugural launches in early January, capping years of development and heralding a new era in American spaceflight.

Wet Dress Rehearsal Paves Way for January 8 Vulcan Launch

After completing a critical wet dress rehearsal test on December 14, ULA’s first Vulcan Centaur rocket is now slated to launch on January 8 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The long-awaited mission, dubbed Certification Flight Test-1 (CFT-1), will certify Vulcan to fly high-priority national security payloads for the U.S. Space Force.

“We are excited to hit this milestone and look forward to Vulcan’s first flight in January,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno. The wet dress rehearsal demonstrated Vulcan’s capability to be fully loaded with propellant and go through a complete launch countdown. Meanwhile, at Astrobotic’s facilities, the Peregrine lander was being prepared for mating with its Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Originally targeting late 2022 for its first Vulcan launch, ULA cited supply chain issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in pushing the CFT-1 mission into 2023. A successful January launch would be a major accomplishment for ULA, introducing its next-generation rocket to replace the long-serving Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles.

Peregrine Lander Set for January 11 Rideshare to the Moon

Barring any further delays, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is scheduled to launch January 11 as a secondary payload on the first Vulcan Centaur rocket. The launch marks Astrobotic’s first opportunity to deliver scientific payloads to the surface of the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

Funded by NASA, Astrobotic developed Peregrine to ferry up to 90 kg of instruments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface. The mission will help blaze a trail for a future lunar economy while advancing capabilities for science and exploration.

|Peregrine Mission Facts| |—| |Launch Vehicle|Vulcan Centaur| |Targeted Landing Site|Lacus Somniorum| |Payloads|14 NASA & commercial payloads| |Target Landing Date|Spring 2023|

Once released into space by Vulcan Centaur, Peregrine will fire its own engines to escape Earth orbit and embark on a three-month cruise to the Moon. After a delicate descent and landing sequence, Astrobotic’s small lander will join NASA scout craft and Chinese rovers already operating on the lunar surface.

“Astrobotic is honored to be part of the first flight of the Vulcan Centaur and the beginning of a new generation of space transportation,” said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.

Race to Establish Lunar Presence Enters New Phase

The one-two punch of Vulcan’s inauguration followed closely by Peregrine’s Moon shot serves notice that the United States does not intend to cede space exploration leadership to China, Europe or anyone else. In recent years, Russia has scaled back its robotic lunar exploration program due to budget woes, while India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon lander missed a targeted 2022 launch.

Meanwhile, NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System has endured years of delays, with the first uncrewed test flight of the Artemis lunar program finally achieved in late 2022. While NASA regroups from hardware and budget issues with its exploration plans, companies like Astrobotic and launch providers like ULA are aiming to gain a foothold for American interests through robotic precursors focused on science and preparing infrastructure for an eventual human return to the Moon.

Establishing a consistent U.S. robotic presence on and around the Moon could yield important contributions to lunar science and human spaceflight while also serving geopolitical messaging purposes. With the European Space Agency’s planned Luna-25 lander suffering its own delays until at least 2024, January missions by Vulcan Centaur and Peregrine would symbolize America’s determination to lead in space.

Outlook: ULA Ramps Up Vulcan Production as Moon Dreams Materialize

Once Vulcan retires following the upcoming CFT-1 mission, ULA will immediately ship the next flight model to the launch pad for final integration. That second Vulcan rocket is assigned to launch Astrobotic’s VC2S mission in early January.

If January flights proceed successfully, ULA will be primed to start ramping up Vulcan launch cadence to fulfill critical national security launch contracts. The company should gain further confidence in its Vulcan production and processing timelines while Astrobotic leads the way for more CLPS customers to take advantage of Vulcan’s capabilities.

Peregrine’s Moon landing would mint Astrobotic as an American commercial leader in robotic lunar surface access. The company could find itself well-positioned to secure more NASA delivery contracts, compete for international and private-sector business, and strengthen its case to develop larger, more capable lunar landers down the road.

Taken together, the imminent missions for ULA’s Vulcan rocket and Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander serve notice that the United States aims to set the pace in the next phase of lunar exploration. While aspirational timelines have given way to realistic schedules, January flights would firmly establish American leadership and technical prowess in the crucial steps toward returning humans to the Moon.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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