astrobotic peregrine lander
Illustration of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the moon. Credit: Astrobotic Technology

WASHINGTON — Astrobotic, a company developing commercial lunar landers, announced July 26 that it will launch its first spacecraft to the moon on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 in 2019.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic said it selected ULA to launch its Peregrine lunar lander, carrying 35 kilograms of payloads from a number of customers to the lunar surface. The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.

“Astrobotic is thrilled to select a ULA launch vehicle as the means to get Peregrine to the moon,” John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic, said in a statement. “By launching with ULA, Astrobotic can rest assured our payload customers will ride on a proven launch vehicle with a solid track record of success.”

The announcement offered no technical details about the launch. Astrobotic spokesperson Carolyn Pace said July 26 the lander will fly as a secondary payload on an Atlas 5 launch. She did not identify the primary payload for that mission.

Astrobotic unveiled the Peregrine lunar lander concept in June 2016. The lander will be capable of carrying up to 265 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface on future missions. Airbus Defence and Space is providing engineering support for the lander’s development under an agreement announced last year. Under a separate agreement, DHL serves as the official logistics provider for the company.

The company has signed up 11 deals from six nations to carry payloads on the initial Peregrine lander. This includes an agreement announced in June with Atlas Space Operations to carry a laser communications terminal on the lander.

The Peregrine lander designed completed a preliminary design review in November 2016. Pace said the company was on track to hold a critical design review for the spacecraft early next year.

Astrobotic was originally one of the first teams signed up to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers a $20 million grand prize for the first privately-developed spacecraft to land on the moon, move across its surface and return video and other data. However, the company dropped out of the competition last year, concluding it was not feasible for it to sign a contract for a launch by the end of 2017, as the competition currently requires.

Astrobotic is instead focused on a long-term business plan that projects growing interest in delivering scientific and other payloads to the moon. “Technical credibility and signed deals remain key differentiators for Astrobotic as a lunar delivery company,” Thornton said in a statement, “Our customers and partners know that our 10 years of lunar lander development work has made us the world leader in this market.”

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...