Astrobotic buys Falcon Heavy for third lunar lander mission

Astrobotic buys Falcon Heavy for third lunar lander mission

WASHINGTON – Lunar lander developer Astrobotic announced on April 25 that it will launch a third mission to the Moon in 2026 aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

Astrobotic said the mission, which is not currently part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program of commercial lunar landers, will be able to carry hundreds of kilograms of customer payload to a site near the moon’s south pole.

“The NASA Artemis program is a major effort to establish a US presence at the Moon’s south pole, and at the same time, international customers are also lining up,” Astrobotic Chief Executive John Thornton said in a statement announcing its selection. Fallon Heavy for an unnamed mission. “With all this growing interest, we felt it was time to announce our next commercial mission to deliver hundreds of kilograms of payload to the lunar south pole.”

In addition to carrying payloads to the lunar surface on a lander, the company said, it will offer satellite deployment for customers looking to put spacecraft into lunar space.

The mission is “going to use up most of the capability on Falcon Heavy,” Michael Provenzano, director of lunar surface systems at Astrobotic, said during a panel discussion April 25 at the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) spring meeting. “It will be a big mission.”

Astrobotic currently offers two landers: the Peregrine, capable of carrying a payload of up to 120 kilograms, and the Griffin, with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms. Peregrine will fly on the astrobotic’s first mission, scheduled for earlier this summer on the occasion of the inauguration of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur. It carries payloads for NASA as well as other customers through the CLPS program, and is intended to land on the near western side of the Moon, near a region called the Groothuysen Domes on the northeastern edge of the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms. side

Griffin will fly Astrobotic’s second mission, also by CLPS, carrying NASA’s VIPER rover to search for ice deposits at the moon’s south pole. That mission will begin in late 2024 on Falcon Heavy.

Astrobotic has not identified any customers signed up for this third mission, including NASA. The company does not currently have a CLPS award associated with this mission.

Under the CLPS program, NASA purchases payload space on commercial lunar landers, which in some cases can be entire lander missions. It aims to give researchers low-cost access to the Moon while stimulating the development of commercial capabilities.

“Ultimately, NASA doesn’t want to be the main customer for all these deliveries, and we’ll consider ourselves successful when we start seeing many of these vendors land on the moon without NASA payloads,” said Brad Bailey. During the LSIC panel, Deputy Associate Administrator for Research in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Another lunar lander developer, Intuitive Machine, has three lander missions on its books, all part of CLPS. The first of these, IM-1, is scheduled to launch on Falcon 9 as soon as June. Ben Bussey, chief scientist at Intuitive Machines, said on the panel that the company is close to finalizing the lander mission, called IMC-1. , without any NASA payloads.

None of the companies involved in CLPS has yet landed a spacecraft on the Moon, a challenge highlighted by the unsuccessful landing of the lunar lander, HAKUTO-R M1, by Japanese company ispace, which occurred while the panel process was underway. .

“We congratulate the @ispace_inc team for achieving a significant number of milestones en route to their landing attempt today,” Astrobotic said. Tweeted After a failed space landing. “We hope everyone recognizes – today is not a day to shy away from chasing the lunar frontier, but an opportunity to learn from adversity and move forward.”

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