More than 50 years after the last Apollo mission, the United States will attempt to ‘return’ to the Moon on January 25th, announced John Thornton, CEO of the American company Astrobotic, which could become the first private company to achieve this feat.
The vehicle, named Peregrine, will not carry any human beings on board but will transport five scientific instruments from NASA. The goal is to study the lunar environment in preparation for crewed Artemis missions. The American space agency decided several years ago to commission American companies to send scientific experiments and technologies to the Moon, a program called CLPS.
“What we are trying to do is attempt a takeoff and landing on the surface of the Moon for a fraction of what it would otherwise cost,” said the head of the company at a press conference, based in Pittsburgh, in the eastern United States. “Only about half of the missions to the lunar surface have been successful,” he added.
“So it’s definitely a huge challenge. I will be terrified and excited at the same time in all phases of the operation.” The launch is scheduled for December 24th from Florida aboard the inaugural flight of the new ULA industrial group rocket, called Vulcan Centaur.
The probe will then take “several days” to reach lunar orbit but will have to wait until January 25th before attempting the landing so that there are the right lighting conditions at the target location, explained John Thornton. The descent will be performed autonomously, without human intervention, but will be monitored by the company’s control center.