WASHINGTON — Astrobotic’s first lunar lander has arrived in Florida for final preparations for launch on Christmas Eve.
Astrobotic announced Oct. 31 that the Peregrine lander has arrived at a payload processing facility at Cape Canaveral operated by Astrotech, after shipping last week from Astrobotic’s Pittsburgh headquarters. The lander will undergo preparations for launch on the inaugural Vulcan Centaur flight by United Launch Alliance.
The arrival of Peregrine at the launch site was a milestone years in the making for Astrobotic. “It’s incredible to realize that we are just a few short weeks away from our Peregrine spacecraft beginning its journey to the moon,” said John Thornton, Astrobotic chief executive, in a statement. “After years of dedication and hard work, we are so close to having our moonshot.”
ULA announced Oct. 24 that it set a launch date of Dec. 24 for the first Vulcan Centaur, with Peregine as the primary payload. There are backup launch opportunities on Dec. 25 and 26, and again in January, a schedule ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno said was constrained by requirements such as lighting conditions at Peregrine’s landing site and communications access.
Peregrine is carrying 21 payloads, including several for NASA through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Astrobotic received one of the first CLPS task orders in May 2019, valued at $79.5 million to carry what NASA said at the time was up to 14 payloads to the moon.
NASA now says it will fly five payloads on Peregrine, including a laser reflectometer and several spectrometers. Several other payloads once manifested on Peregrine were moved to other missions, NASA said, “to maintain performance margins in Peregrine’s descent to the lunar surface.”
Astrobotic’s own manifest of payloads includes a sixth from NASA, a navigation Doppler lidar instrument. Non-NASA payloads on Peregrine range from a small lunar rover developed by Carnegie Mellon University to memorial items.
Peregrine will attempt a landing in the Gruithuisen Domes region of the near side of the moon. If successful, Astrobotic plans to operate the lander for up to 10 days, until nightfall at the landing site.
The mission is now in line to be the first American commercial lunar lander mission. Intuitive Machines announced Oct. 27 that its IM-1 lander mission, which was to launch on a Falcon 9 in mid-November, was now delayed to no earlier than Jan. 12. It did not disclose the reason for the delay but previously said that “pad congestion” at Launch Complex 39A could cause it to miss its November launch window.