First Vulcan Centaur Test Flight Marks Milestone in Private Lunar Exploration
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched its inaugural Vulcan Centaur rocket on January 8, carrying the Astrobotic Peregrine moon lander and making history as the first private mission to land on the moon. The mission, known as Cert-1, aims to demonstrate the readiness of the Vulcan Centaur for future commercial and government flights.
The liftoff took place at 2:18 a.m. EST from ULA’s Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch window extended for 45 minutes, closing at 3:03 a.m. EST. The launch was initially scheduled for December 24 but was postponed to January to allow for a full fueling rehearsal.
The Vulcan Centaur rocket not only marks a significant milestone for ULA but also carries the Astrobotic Peregrine moon lander, a private mission developed by the U.S. company Astrobotic. Peregrine is carrying six experiments for NASA as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The mission includes the first U.S. moon landing since 1972 and is the first-ever private mission to land on the moon safely if successful.
In addition to NASA’s experiments, the Peregrine moon lander is transporting various payloads for paying customers, including a delivery service package for DHL, a digital art gallery, and human DNA samples and cremated remains for space burial companies Celestis and Elysium.
The launch window for the Cert-1 mission spanned four days, with backup dates on January 9, 10, and 11. The best weather conditions were forecasted for the primary launch date, January 8, with an 85% chance of favorable weather. Subsequent days had decreasing probabilities due to thick clouds.
The live webcast of the launch, provided by NASA and ULA, began at 1:30 a.m. EST, covering the last hour before liftoff and following the Vulcan Centaur rocket through its various stages. The Peregrine moon lander is scheduled to separate from the Centaur upper stage approximately four hours and 24 minutes after launch.
If the initial launch attempt on January 8 proves unsuccessful, ULA has three more opportunities on January 9, 10, and 11 before standing down for several weeks. The complexity of orbital mechanics requires precise timing for the delivery of the Peregrine lander to the moon.
The successful completion of the Vulcan Centaur Cert-1 test flight is expected to pave the way for future private lunar exploration missions. Astrobotic’s Peregrine is scheduled to land on the moon on February 23, marking a significant achievement in the realm of private space endeavors.