based in pittsburgh astroboticULA’s first lunar lander is scheduled to take off on Christmas Eve aboard United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, ULA CEO Tori Bruno said.
Bruno told the audience at the CNBC Technology Executive Council Summit that the company is targeting its first Vulcan launch between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26. “The reason today is Christmas Eve is because of science: orbital mechanics,” said Tori Bruno, CEO of ULA.
The rocket will carry a payload hosted by Astrobotic’s Peregrine robotic lander and Celestis, a company that partners with launch companies to send parts of cremated remains into space as memorials. ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has a backup period in January in case the rocket fails to take off in December.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine will launch as part of a $79.5 million NASA contract awarded in 2019 under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. The lander, which is just over 6 feet tall, 8 feet wide and has a payload of 120 kilograms, will deliver scientific payloads to the northern part of the moon on behalf of the space agency.
Although the mission date seems festive, Bruno said that’s partly due to Astrobotic’s mission requirements. “We’re going to parts of the moon where we have to control the lighting conditions very carefully, and we also have to maintain radio communication with the deep space network,” he explained. “This guy only gets a few days every month when you put the two together.”
It takes a long time to realize the mission. Astrobotic first announced that it had selected her ULA for launch. 2019 landerAt the time, both companies said the launch would occur in 2021.
However, the schedule has been pushed back due to numerous technical delays to Vulcan, including an accident in March of this year when the upper stage exploded during a test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Another explosion occurred during a rocket engine test of the BE-4 engine being developed by Blue Origin, further delaying the flight. Even before December, ULA still has work to do. Bruno told CNBC that the company is currently certifying Vulcan’s upper stage, and work should be completed in November.
This first mission, called Certification-1, is one of two certification flights that ULA must complete to meet Space Force requirements.
The mission will take off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. ULA wants to rapidly increase the pace of Vulcan’s launches, with a goal of launching once every two weeks by mid-2025. Some of that demand will come from the government, but ULA also expects demand from private customers. ULA won a huge contract from Amazon to launch part of its giant Kuiper satellite internet mega-constellation in 2022, but the price of the launch contract has soared. Not disclosed.