NASA’s Payload Costs Jump By 36% For Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission

    In a significant development in the private space race, NASA’s payload costs for the lunar lander have seen a 36% increase for Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission. This marks a major milestone in the burgeoning $470 billion global industry.

    Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh-based company, is aiming to become the first commercial space company to achieve a lunar landing. The company’s CEO, John Thornton, believes that the time is ripe for such an endeavor. “It took a while for technology to advance to the point where we could affordably, routinely, regularly get to the surface of the moon,” he said.

    The Peregrine lunar lander, a small-class spacecraft developed inside Astrobotic’s 47,000-square-foot facility, is equipped with electronics, propulsion, and communications systems. It is scheduled to be launched aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year.

    However, commercial success on the moon has remained elusive. Earlier this year, the Japanese company ispace’s attempt to land the first commercial lander on the lunar surface fell short when its Hakuto-R lunar lander miscalculated the altitude and crashed.

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    The inaugural launch of the Vulcan rocket is scheduled for just past midnight on Monday. Weather officer Melody Lovin at the teleconference stated that the conditions are ideal for a launch on Sunday night and early Monday. However, if the launch of the Peregrine is postponed on Monday due to higher winds later in the day, it could face a delay of more than 24 hours.

    John Thorton, CEO of Astrobotic, revealed that the company faced numerous obstacles and skeptics on its path to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Astrobotic, the first private American company to send a lunar lander to the Moon, was awarded a $79.5 million contract for the Peregrine lunar lander in May 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted industrial supply chains.

    The Peregrine will transport 20 payloads from six countries, including five for NASA. Since 2019, the cost of these five payloads has increased by 36%. Joel Kearns of NASA explained that disruptions in the supply chain due to the pandemic led NASA to accept applications for contract value adjustments. NASA and Astrobotic are also collaborating to send NASA’s VIPER lander to the Moon via the Griffin lander.

    The ULA will restart its launch countdown at 3 p.m. local time on Sunday for a launch approximately two hours after midnight on Monday. The Vulcan was moved to the launch pad earlier today after all teams gave the green light at the launch readiness reviews yesterday, as stated by Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president for government and commercial programs.

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    Following the launch, the Vulcan Centaur upper stage will propel the lander into an elliptical orbit approximately 225,000 miles above the Earth. After the Peregrine is deployed, ULA will conduct a series of tests on the Centaur for about two and a half hours to prepare for future missions, such as launching payloads directly to the geostationary orbit.

    These tests will include a critical third startup test of the RL-10 rocket engine. Multiple engine startups are crucial for longer duration second stage glides as they provide additional thrust for maneuvering around the Earth.

    The contract value for sending the five experiments to the Moon on the Peregrine has risen to $108 million, up from the initial $79.5 million award. The Griffin lander, which will transport NASA’s Viper to the Moon, is Astrobotic’s main source of income from NASA’s CLPS program. The launch of the Griffin was postponed to late 2024 in 2022, as NASA requested additional tests from Astrobotic as part of a lucrative $199.5 million contract.

    After separating from the Centaur, the Peregrine will perform a phasing loop around the Earth, execute trajectory correction maneuvers, power up, and orient itself towards the Sun. Upon reaching the Moon, the lander will begin in a high elliptical orbit. It will then descend to a medium elliptical orbit, transition to a circular orbit, and finally commence an hour-long descent to the lunar surface from an altitude of 100 kilometers in February.

    Image Source: Astrobotic

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