Commercial space company Astrobotic has unveiled its near-complete lander, designed to carry payloads on behalf of clients on the surface of the Moon. Its first launch is scheduled for the end of this year.
NASA has been focusing its main efforts on the Artemis program for several years. Its goal is to bring humans back to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s, before establishing a lasting presence there. However, remember that NASA is also funding a second lunar program on a smaller scale (only 3% of the cost of Artemis): the Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The latter aims to use private companies to send landers to the surface of the Moon to carry out scientific missions.
Say hello to Peregrine
Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is one such private company. For several years, it has been developing a lander called Peregrine. Equipped with five engines allowing it to navigate in space and land on the lunar ground, the vehicle of just over 1.8 m high will offer various slots capable of storing payloads on behalf of customers. NASA is therefore one of these customers.
Like Intuitive Machines, another private company concerned by this program, Astrobotic thus benefited from a contract from the American agency to help stimulate the development of its lander which will in turn provide the space agency with a means of deliver scientific experiments to the Moon.
A few days ago, the company finally unveiled its robotic lunar lander to the public. Members of the NASA leadership team, including Administrator Bill Nelson and Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen, were present for the occasion.
Note that some tanks, solar panels, propulsion and other attributes will still need to be added to the vehicle. However, this presentation gives us a real first glimpse of what this machine will look like. “Obviously the lander is still under construction, but it’s advanced enough that we can reveal what it looks like now,” said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s so exciting. It’s fifteen years of preparation“.
The company declined to provide details on the cost of developing Peregrine or the price it charges customers to buy a seat on the lander.
A launch at the end of the year?
For its first launch, the Peregrine lander will carry twenty-four payloads to the Moon. Just under half will be NASA science instruments while the rest come from a diverse group of commercial customers, including a micro-rover from the Mexican Space Agency. The lander’s target destination is an area called Lacus Mortis (the “Lake of Death”).
This launch is normally scheduled for the end of the year. It should normally be done aboard a Vulcan rocket, from United Launch Alliance. This is a brand new vehicle in the papers since 2014. However, the development of this rocket, like that of its BE-4 engines built by Blue Origin, has fallen far behind. We therefore do not know if everything will be ready for D-Day.
Intuitive Machines, the company’s “rival”, plans to fly later this year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. However, it is a much more proven launcher. In the end, Intuitive Machines could steal the show from Astrobotic by becoming the first private company to send a commercial robotic lander to the Moon.
However, you still have to arrive in one piece. Many have tried and had problems.