Earlier this week, private space technology company Astrobotic unveiled its new robotic lunar lander. Called Peregrine, the 1.83 m-tall probe is scheduled to land on the Moon later this year.
Peregrine is a part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), an initiative that’s meant to enable the quick acquisition of “lunar delivery services from American companies for payloads that advance capabilities for science, exploration or commercial development of the Moon,” as NASA describes the program. On Wednesday, representatives from the space agency got their first look at the final flight-ready version.
Peregrine is packed with 24 different payloads from three national space agencies, as well as payloads from commercial companies, a rover from Carnegie Mellon University, and messages from people around the world. Of the two-dozen payloads, 11 belong to NASA.
NASA’s payloads are mostly to do with the agency’s upcoming Artemis program, which aims to land people on the Moon no earlier than 2025, though the space agency’s inspector general has said a landing in 2026 is more feasible. The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer will collect data about the Moon’s radiation environment, the Neutron Spectrometer System will search for hints of water-ice near the lunar surface, and the Fluxgate Magnetometer will characterise certain magnetic fields to help scientists better understand energy and particle pathways at the surface of the Moon, according to NASA.
The payloads have already been integrated onto Peregrine’s flight deck, which still needs to be installed onto the greater lander itself. Once that’s done, Peregrine will undergo spacecraft environmental testing before being shipped to Cape Canaveral in Florida for its final preparations. Launch is currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022.
“This lunar lander build is a dream come true,” John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, said in an emailed statement. “It represents the culmination of countless hours over many years by hundreds of people to design and assemble the lander, to create the lunar delivery market, and to establish the facilities and supply chain needed to ensure the success of commercial space missions like Peregrine’s long into the future.”
Astrobotic, based in Pittsburgh, is one of two commercial companies developing lunar landers for launches in 2022. The other company is Intuitive Machines, which is developing its Nova-C lander for the IM-1 mission that is also part of NASA’s CLPS.
Landing probes on the Moon is no easy feat. So far, only NASA, Russia, and China have successfully landed on the Moon. Attempts by other nations have not ended well; Israel’s Beresheet crashed onto the Moon’s surface in April 2019, while India’s Vikram spacecraft did the same that September.
Peregrine will be the first spacecraft to fly aboard United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. Meanwhile, Astrobotic is developing a larger lunar lander called Griffin. The Griffin lander is slated to transport NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon in 2023.