Astrobotics’ Peregrine lander is slated to launch on the first flight for ULA’s Vulcan rocket. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is scheduled for Dec. 24 at 1:50 a.m. EST.
"Yes, it's Christmas Eve, but it will be one heck of a Christmas present," Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told reporters Wednesday.
Astrobotic was among the 14 private companies selected by NASA under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver science to the Moon ahead of the first Artemis astronaut missions to the lunar south pole in late 2025. In early 2024, Houston-based company Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C lander with SpaceX, also carrying NASA science to the Moon.
Preparing for astronaut missions
Peregrine will provide power and communication to more than 20 lunar payloads, which includes five science missions for NASA, as well as science for universities, government and private customers.
"The suite of payloads will collect data on the lunar exosphere, volatiles on the lunar surface, as well as the radiation environment, all helping us better prepare for sending crewed missions back to the moon," said Program Scientist Ryan Watkins, with NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
The different science objectives are catered to the landing zone, a region of ancient basaltic lava flows.
With the current launch window, the landing could happen on Jan. 25. Peregrine will make a soft landing near the lunar volcanic region known as the Gruithuisen Domes.
The lunar lander will also have time capsules as part of Astrobotic's DHL Moonbox program and a token from local amusement park Kennywood after Pittsburghers voted to send the item to the Moon.
This will mark the first mission for Astrobotic and ULA’s Vulcan rocket. No private company has successfully landed on the Moon before.
NASA leaders recognize there are risks involved. NASA CLPS project manager Chris Culbert said the agency has accepted that some CLPS missions may not succeed.
"Spaceflight is hard, and it's a very unforgiving business," Culbert said. "Even small mistakes are going to have huge consequences. Even if every landing isn't successful, this has already had an impact on the commercial infrastructure needed to establish a lunar economy."
As for being on the first flight of a new rocket, Thornton said ULA’s "stellar track record of success" is a comfort to Astrobotic’s mission managers.
Thornton said this mission carries more than just the weight of NASA and being the first private company to land on the Moon. It also carries "the hopes and dreams of Pittsburgh."