United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur embarked on its inaugural flight, named Cert-1, in the early morning hours of January 8. This historic launch took place from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, marking a significant milestone for space exploration.
Vulcan lifted off at 2:18 a.m. EST, powered by two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and two Blue Origin-built BE-4 first-stage engines, generating nearly 2 million pounds of thrust. The 202-foot-tall rocket carried Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander, featuring 20 diverse customer payloads, including five NASA science instruments.
- Liftoff: Vulcan soared into the sky at 2:18 a.m. EST.
- Solid Rocket Boosters Separation: Two minutes after liftoff, the SRBs successfully detached from Vulcan’s first-stage booster.
- First Stage Separation: About five minutes post-launch, Vulcan’s first stage shut down its engines and separated from the Centaur upper stage.
- Centaur Burns: Centaur initiated a series of burns, including a 30-second burn followed by a four-minute translunar injection burn.
- Payload Release: Approximately 50.5 minutes after launch, Peregrine was released to commence its journey toward the moon.
After the successful deployment of Peregrine, ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno expressed excitement, anticipating Peregrine’s potential success as the first American spacecraft to land on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Peregrine is part of a contemporary moon race, competing with Houston-based Intuitive Machines. The mission holds special importance for NASA, with five scientific payloads contracted through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, highlighted the significance of CLPS for NASA’s Artemis program, aiming to land astronauts on the moon by 2025 or 2026. CLPS contracts enable NASA to focus on cutting-edge research while companies handle lunar payload deliveries.
NASA’s Scientific Payloads
- Measures precise distances using mirrors and lasers.
- Functions as Peregrine’s permanent location marker on the lunar surface.
- Measures radiation in the spacecraft’s environment in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface.
- Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometers System (NIRVSS):
- Measures hydrogen on the moon’s surface and subsurface.
- Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometers for Lunar Surface Volatiles (PITMS):
- Studies the moon’s wispy atmosphere.
- Neutron Spectrometer System:
- Detects shifts in hydrogen-bearing materials on the moon’s surface between day and night.
Astrobotic’s Diverse Payloads
Astrobotic carries non-NASA payloads, enabling six nations—Mexico, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary, the Seychelles, and Nepal—to send materials to the lunar surface for the first time.
Symbolic Payload of Vulcan Centaur
During a press conference, Astrobotic CEO John Thornton highlighted a symbolic payload: a piece of Everest, reciprocating a gesture from a 2010 expedition where NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski brought moon rocks to the peak of Everest.
Vulcan Centaur Cert-1 mission marked a triumphant start for ULA’s new launch vehicle, showcasing collaboration between public and private entities. The successful deployment of Astrobotic’s Peregrine, with its diverse payloads, signifies a promising era in lunar exploration, with implications for NASA’s future Artemis missions and the evolution of commercial lunar services.
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