United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that the first Vulcan Centaur flight will carry the Astrobotic Peregrine lunar lander.
In May, Astrobotic was awarded $79.5 million in funding to deliver 14 NASA payloads to the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Although the mission will carry NASA payloads, it is a commercial enterprise and, as a result, Astrobotic was responsible for securing launch services.
“Our rockets have carried exploration missions to the moon, the sun and every planet in the solar system so it is only fitting that Vulcan Centaur’s inaugural flight will lead the return of Americans to the lunar surface,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president, and CEO.
According to an August 19 (ULA) press release, the mission “will serve as the first of two certification flights required for ULA’s U.S. Air Force certification process.” Traditionally, these certification flights utilise boilerplate payloads to validate the vehicle’s reliability before risking actual payloads.
Late last week, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) confirmed that it would launch a Dream Chaser mission aboard the second certification flight. As a result, with yesterday’s announcement, ULA has confirmed that both of the Vulcan’s certification flights will be carrying commercial payloads. Although currently unconfirmed, it is believed that both SNC and Astrobotic received significant discounts to launch aboard the rocket’s certification flights.
As part of the CLPS program, the Astrobotic Peregrine will be one of the first US lunar landers to attempt a soft landing on the surface of the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The first mission of the CLPS program is expected to be launched in September 2020 aboard an OrbitBeyond lander. The Astrobotic lander is expected to follow in July 2021 along with an Intuitive Machines lander. Both OrbitBeyond and Intuitive Machines are yet to select a preferred launch vehicle for their respective missions.