WASHINGTON — Lunar lander developer Astrobotic announced April 25 it will launch a third mission to the moon in 2026 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

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

“The NASA Artemis program is a major effort to establish a U.S. presence at the lunar south pole, and at the same time, international customers are also lining up,” John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic, said in a statement announcing its selection of Falon Heavy for the unnamed mission. “With all this rising interest, we felt now is the time to announce our next commercial mission to deliver hundreds of kilograms of payload to the lunar south pole.”

The company said that, in addition to carrying payloads to the lunar surface on the lander, it will offer satellite deployments for customers seeking to place spacecraft into cislunar space.

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

Astrobotic currently offers two landers: Peregrine, capable of carrying up to 120 kilograms of payloads, and Griffin, with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms. Peregrine will fly on Astrobotic’s first mission, scheduled for no earlier than this summer on the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur. It is carrying payloads for NASA through the CLPS program as well as for other customers, and is intended to land near a region called the Gruithuisen Domes on the northeast edge of Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, on the western part of the moon’s near side.

Griffin will fly Astrobotic’s second mission, carrying NASA’s VIPER rover to look for ice deposits at the lunar south pole, also through CLPS. That mission will launch on a Falcon Heavy in late 2024.

Astrobotic did not identify any customers who have 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 buys payload space on commercial lunar landers, which in some cases can be the entire lander mission. That is intended to provide researchers with low-cost access to the moon while also stimulating the development of commercial capabilities.

“Ultimately, NASA does not want to be the prime customer for all of these deliveries, and we would consider ourselves to be successful when we start to see several of these vendors actually landing on the moon without NASA payloads,” said Brad Bailey, assistant deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, during the LSIC panel.

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

None of the companies involved with CLPS, though, has yet to land a spacecraft on the moon, a challenge highlighted by the unsuccessful landing of HAKUTO-R M1, a lunar lander by Japanese company ispace, which took place while the panel was in progress.

“We congratulate the @ispace_inc team on accomplishing a significant number of milestones on their way to today’s landing attempt,” Astrobotic tweeted after the failed ispace landing. “We hope everyone recognizes-today is not the day to shy away from pursuing the lunar frontier, but a chance to learn from adversity and push forward.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...