CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – United Launch Alliance has set a Christmas Eve launch date for the maiden flight of the Vulcan Centaur rocket, and its first payload is headed to the Moon.
ULA's new Vulcan Centaur rocket will launch the Peregrine Moon lander for Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic.
The Vulcan has been assembled at the Florida launch site since early February. In March, while testing the rocket’s Centaur upper stage at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, a fire on the test stand led to an investigation that is now complete, clearing the way for Vulcan's first liftoff.
ULA announced the Christmas Eve launch date last week but did not reveal the liftoff time. The company said it will announce the T-0 closer to the liftoff date.
When it happens on Christmas Eve, Vulcan will liftoff from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The Vulcan Centaur is designed to replace ULA's workhorse rocket, the Atlas V rocket, which uses Russian-built RD-180 engines. Vulcan uses two Blue Origin BE-4 engines and solid rocket boosters to provide up to 3.8 million pounds of thrust.
Moon lander ready for liftoff
The Peregrine lander shipped out from the Astrobotic's clean room in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 and arrived at the Florida launch site this week. Astrobotic's clean room is one of the few places the public can view work on a spacecraft as it is part of the Moonshot Museum.
The spacecraft will remain at Astrotech facilities in Florida, where it will be integrated with ULA's Vulcan rocket ahead of launch.
"It’s incredible to realize that we are just a short time away from our Peregrine spacecraft beginning its journey to the Moon," Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said in a statement. "After years of dedication and hard work, we are so close to having our moonshot. We invite you to follow along as Peregrine, with seven countries represented aboard, launches to the Moon and attempts one of the first successful landings of an American spacecraft since Apollo."
Peregrine will provide power and communication to 21 lunar payloads, which includes science for NASA, universities, government and private customers. The lunar lander will also have time capsules sent up as part of Astrobotic's DHL Moonbox program, which allows people to purchase space on the lander for small personal items.
About 10 days after launch, Peregrine will make a soft landing in the lunar volcanic region known as the Gruithuisen Domes.
Astrobotic was one of about a dozen companies selected under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program to deliver science payloads to the Moon's surface. The robotic program will help NASA prepare for returning humans to the Moon in 2025.