After years of preparation, two historic private moon missions are nearing their launch date in early January 2023. The Peregrine Mission One by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and the Vulcan Centaur rocket by United Launch Alliance (ULA) are slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral on January 8th, carrying scientific payloads and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface for NASA and private companies.
These will be the first lunar landings by American spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972, signaling a new era in lunar exploration driven by private industry. The missions aim to test technologies and collect information to support future human missions to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program.
Peregrine Mission One
The Peregrine lunar lander is slated to be the first American spacecraft to softly land on the Moon in over 50 years. Built by Astrobotic Technology, the spacecraft can carry up to 90 kg of payload to the lunar surface.
For its first mission, Peregrine will carry 11 payloads from NASA and other private companies to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon. The payloads include technology demonstrations and scientific instruments to assess the lunar environment.
Some key milestones for Peregrine Mission One:
December 2023: The Peregrine lander was integrated with ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket at Cape Canaveral. This marked the first time Vulcan Centaur was fully stacked on the pad.
January 8, 2023: Scheduled launch date for Peregrine Mission One on the inaugural flight of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. The launch was originally planned for December but faced delays.
Spring 2023: Peregrine is scheduled to land on the Moon after a 4-month journey. It will be the first American spacecraft in over 50 years to softly land intact on the lunar surface.
The Peregrine lander has already gone through extensive ground testing to ensure mission success. Engineers have confidence the spacecraft can safely deliver its payload and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface.
If successful, Astrobotic aims to launch many more Peregrine missions in the coming years to meet the growing demand for lunar payload services. NASA has major plans to build a sustained presence on and around the Moon under its Artemis program.
ULA Vulcan Centaur Rocket
Peregrine Mission One will make history as the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket.
Vulcan Centaur is designed to meet the expanding needs of the commercial space industry. It evolved from ULA’s reliable Atlas and Delta fleet with advanced new technologies and innovations.
Some key details on the Vulcan Centaur rocket:
- Height: 71 m
- Stages: 2
- Payload to LEO: 27,000 kg
- Payload to lunar orbit 8,000 kg
- Engines: 2 BE-4 engines supplied by Blue Origin
Vulcan Centaur’s inauguration has been long anticipated after early development began in 2014. Its advanced technologies like 3D-printed parts and methane-powered engines are expected to lower costs and turnaround times.
If the first certification flight goes well, ULA aims to quickly ramp up launches of Vulcan Centaur for national security, civil space, and commercial missions. The rocket’s unique capabilities make it well-suited for complex robotic lunar landings like Peregrine Mission One.
ULA will livestream the first Vulcan Centaur launch on January 8 for the public to witness this historic new rocket take flight. A backup launch date is also available on January 9th if needed.
Payloads and Experiments
Alongside its technology demonstrations, Peregrine Mission One will deliver 11 NASA and private payloads to Lacus Mortis:
|Test navigation and hazard avoidance prototype
|Measure lunar radiation environment
|Demonstrate small rover mobility
|Test lunar regolith sampling prototype
|Deploy 2 tiny rovers on the Moon
|University of Tennessee
|Characterize geology/thermophysics of landing site
|Assess viability of 3D-printed materials on Moon
|Evaluate energy harvesting and transfer tech
|First deep space solar sail spacecraft
|University of Tokyo
|Perform bioengineering experiments on lunar surface
|Time capsule with messages and mementos
These small but important payloads will help NASA and private companies better understand the lunar environment, test technologies, and gain experience with landing operations on the Moon.
The data and lessons learned from Peregrine’s suite of payloads will directly feed forward into NASA’s Artemis program – bringing humans back to the lunar surface this decade.
As the January launch date nears, engineers are conducting final checkouts and launch preparations for Peregrine and Vulcan Centaur. So far, everything remains on track for the ambitious lunar missions.
Assuming a successful launch, Peregrine would conduct several mid-course corrections on its multi-month journey before attempting a precise powered descent to the lunar surface in spring 2023. The team will wait anxiously for signals confirming a soft touchdown in Lacus Mortis.
Meanwhile, ULA will likely move forward with several more Vulcan Centaur launches through 2023 as they commercialize and scale up the new rocket. More complex missions like asteroid sample returns and robotic lunar landers for NASA are already booked to fly on Vulcan in the next few years.
The January moon missions are poised to usher in a renaissance of lunar exploration – this time driven by private industry and innovation. And it’s just the opening chapter, as NASA plans to send astronauts back to the Moon later this decade under the Artemis program.
Peregrine Mission One and the inaugural launch of Vulcan Centaur mark major milestones in space history that demonstrate American leadership in engineering and technology innovation. These ambitious private moon missions could very well inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers.
If successful, Peregrine and Vulcan Centaur will pave the way for a sustained human return to the Moon, future Mars missions, and a thriving new space economy driven by private industry. It’s an exciting new era in space exploration.
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