This afternoon, commercial space company Astrobotic unveiled its nearly complete robotic lunar lander, designed to transport payloads for clients like NASA on the lunar surface. This is the first time the company has shown mostly completed flight equipment for the lander ahead of its launch, tentatively scheduled for late this year.
The spacecraft is called the Peregrine Lunar Lander, and it’s the size of a squat refrigerator, measuring more than six feet in height. Five main engines installed on the probe’s base will help the rover navigate through space and eventually allow the rover to touch the lunar surface. The vehicle has various locations that can store portable payloads for experiments designed to take advantage of the lunar environment and customers who only want their products on the lunar surface.
Astrobotic, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is one of two private companies aiming to become the first to send a commercial robotic lander to the Moon — and land on one piece. The other is Intuitive Machines, based in Houston, which is building its robotic lunar probe called Nova-C. Both companies have received Millions of dollars in contracts from NASA To help spur the development of their landing craft, which in turn provides the space agency with a way to deliver science experiments to the Moon. It’s a small part of NASA’s flagship Artemis program, a major effort by the agency to eventually return humans to the lunar surface.
By funding several companies, NASA was also hoping to stimulate some friendly competition. Originally, the agency funded three companies in its first round of contracts, known as the CLPS program, but one of the winners pulled out. Now, it’s up to Astrobotic and Intuitive machinesBoth are aiming to fly their lander sometime this year.
“Our number one priority is mission success, and if it’s the first mission, great,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. the edge. “And if not, that’s fine too. Really, success is the most important, but it’s the first commercial lander to be unveiled. We haven’t seen any hardware or pictures. [Intuitive Machines’] spacecraft yet.” (Another specially built lunar lander, made by the Israeli non-profit SpaceIL, attempted to reach the moon in 2019, But she didn’t fully commit to landing.)
Members of the NASA leadership team, including Administrator Bill Nelson and Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, were present at the Astrobot facility today for the unveiling. “This is an exciting time and our trading partners are a big part of it,” Nelson said during brief remarks at Astrobot.
The landing flight chassis was introduced today, but some tanks, solar panels, propulsion and other features still needed to be added to the vehicle. “The probe is obviously still under construction, but it’s far enough away that we can detect it as it looks now,” says Thornton. “And that’s very exciting. It’s 15 years in the making.” Astrobotek refused to provide specifics on the cost of two burgers Or how much do customers charge for a spot on the probe.
On its first launch, the Peregrine lander will carry 24 payloads to the Moon, according to the company. Just under half of the science instruments are from NASA while the others come from a variety of commercial clients. One load includes a rover made by students at Carnegie Mellon University and There is also a small craft from the Mexican space agency. The probe will contain a few unique payloads – such as a lunar dream capsule from Japan and a physical bitcoin, “loaded” with one bitcoin. The landing craft’s target destination is an area called Lacos Mortes – which eerily translates to “Lake of Death”. Once it lands, the peregrine will attempt to last a full lunar day, about two weeks, before the very cold two-week lunar night begins.
However, the astrobot’s journey to the moon remains an open question. The Peregrine probe is set to be the first ever spacecraft To fly on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket, a completely new vehicle has been in development since 2014. However, the Vulcan was a few years late reaching the launch pad, and it’s still not ready. The rocket is designed to fly on a new engine made by Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin, called BE-4 – but those engines are also years behind schedule.
Thornton says he has received assurances from ULA that the Vulcan will launch in the last quarter of this year, and that the BE-4 engines will be ready in the middle of this year. He says Astrobotic “has no reason to suspect” ULA. “ULA is a storied, successful company,” says Thornton. “So we feel very confident in the launch, which is why we booked with them.”
Only one thing rivals intuitive machines Do You have a contract to fly on a working rocket. The company is supposed to fly a Nova-C lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year, although Intuitive Machines doesn’t have a flight date. As for the differences between the two landers, Thornton points to the fact that the Peregrine is much more than the C-type long lander. It also states that the Shaheen will fly on “proven” hydrazine fuel, while the intuitive machines are experimenting with a new cryogenic propulsion system.
“At the end of the day, we’re both on the moon hookup,” says Thornton. “And we clearly believe that our lander is the best fit for our customers, and so far, our customers have overwhelmingly chosen us against the competition.”
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