Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander in Astrotech’s clean room in Titusville, Florida. The spacecraft will be the primary payload on the first launch of ULA’s Vulcan rocket. Image: ULA The first cargo of NASA’s industry-led lunar missions has arrived in Florida. Astrobotic announced on Halloween that its Peregrine lunar lander had been unpacked in a clean room on the Space Coast after leaving Astrobotic’s facilities in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Friday.
The mission will be the first for both the Astrobotic and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket to space. President and CEO Tory Bruno tweeted Tuesday that the launch date is Dec. 24. is 1:49 AM EST (0649 UTC).
“It’s incredibly exciting. We’ve been talking about this mission as an organization for 16 years, it’s our first mission to the moon, and now it’s finally here,” said Dan Hendrickson, Astrobotic’s vice president of business development. “The team is excited, eager to take off from the launch pad and ready to fly.” So actually, now that we’re here, it’s a dream come true.
Hendrickson spoke with Spaceflight Now on the sidelines of the American Astronautical Society’s von Braun Space Exploration Symposium on Oct. 27, the day Peregrine landed in Florida.
Hendrickson said that now that they are in the Sunshine State, releasing them will be relatively easy. He said teams with Astrobotic have been working with ULA for months on refueling, transport to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility and integration into Centaur 5’s upper stage.
“We built Peregrine in a 100,000 cleanroom to our spacecraft’s cleanliness standards. So, we’ve maintained that environment as it transits and goes through the encapsulation process,” Hendrickson said. “That process and flow has been and will be maintained through launch.”
.@astrobotikaPeregrine The lunar lander is on its way to Florida. He left the clean room next to the @MoonshotMuseum this morning in Pittsburgh.
We spoke with VP of Business Development Dan Hendrickson about the lander’s trip to the pod and the NET launch on December 24th.
Watch here: pic.twitter.com/W57gwonDtl
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) March 2023 October 27
Peregrine’s Way to the Moon
After the Vulcan lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral and separates from the rocket, Hendrickson said the first step is to turn on power before it goes on its first stage cycle to lunar distance. .
“So it gives us an opportunity to test the vehicle, to understand how it’s doing, because it’s the first time it’s going into space,” Hendrickson said. “It will come back around the Earth. It will descend and then come out to meet the Moon wherever it is at that time.
Peregrine will perform a lunar orbit insertion burn to enter a highly elliptical orbit, Hendrickson said. After that, it will enter a less elliptical orbit and eventually turn into a 100 x 100 kilometer ellipse.
The spacecraft will remain in that orbit “until conditions for lunar illumination are suitable.”
“We want to land early in the morning at the landing site. So we’re going to wait for those lighting conditions to work out,” Hendrickson said. “And then we’ll start going down the surface.
Hendrickson said that because the lander uses a hypergolic (fluids that spontaneously react with each other) propulsion system, they can stay in this circular orbit before eventually starting the powered descent sequence.
“We don’t have a problem with no propellant being released over time, so that gives us enough flexibility,” he said. “We’ll be fine if we wait for any lighting conditions. All the options and launch windows we have will allow us to take as long as the vehicle needs.
A graphic from Astrobotic’s Peregrine user manual showing the general trajectory of a mission to the Moon. Graphics: Astrobotic Under the nominal scenario, Hendrickson said it would take 30 to 39 days from launch to landing on the moon. Assuming ULA can launch in December. period that runs from December 24-26, then landing should be around 2024. month of January. at the end
When asked if a different launch and landing strategy was considered to allow for a larger launch window each month, Hendrickson said that was their best option.
“We worked with ULA to maximize the opportunities available. We wanted to make sure Peregrine had the best possible chance of a successful surface ascent and give it the best possible window to land,” Hendrickson said. “So we’ve worked very closely with them during the time we’ve been under contract together.” It’s been a great working relationship and we’ve found a sweet spot.
Peregrine’s lander will land at Sinus Viscosity, which translates as “sticky gulf.” It is located at 35.25 degrees north and 40.99 degrees west on the Moon.
Hendrickson said one of their partners, DHL, is helping share their trip to the moon and said the landing will be live-streamed.
Beginning of CLPS
Due to the delayed launch date, after Intuitive Machines launches its Nova-C lander, the Peregrine-1 mission will be the first to launch under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Similar to the Commercial Crew Program, NASA will be a paying customer and will carry various payloads on commercial landers traveling to the Moon.
However, if it sticks to its launch date, the IM-1 mission should reach the lunar surface slightly before Peregrine-1 lands.
Once on the surface, Hendrickson said Peregrine is designed to operate for about eight to 10 days. They carry 21 payloads on board, which are a mix of commercial and government goods.
Astrobotic was awarded one of the first assignments under the CLPS program back in 2019, worth $79.5 million. The agency named it Task Order 2 – AB (TO2-AB). It was originally supposed to carry up to 14 NASA payloads, ten of which were considered later in development. However, five have been moved to future CLPS missions based on the 2023 April update from NASA.
The remaining five NASA payloads are from the following Ames Research Center (ARC), Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Johnson Space Center (JSC):
Laser Reflector Array (LRA) – GSFC Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) – UAB Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) – ARC Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS) – ARC Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) – GSFC / European Space Agency Peregrine-1 will also carry the Iris rover, built by Carnegie Mellon University, which is poised to become the first American lunar rover sent to the moon.
Carnegie Mellon’s Iris rover photographed on simulated lunar regolith. Photo: Carnegie Mellon Another payload on board will be a technology demonstration called the Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) sensor, which was developed under a $10 million NASA Tipping Point contract in collaboration with JSC, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Moog. .
“We’re in an environment where GPS isn’t allowed, so this sensor is something we’ve valued since the beginning of our program, so we needed to build it in-house.” It’s an incredibly important skill to have for our landers,” Hendrickson said. “This is an opportunity to test hardware and algorithms that will visually identify key features to help the spacecraft understand where it is in space relative to the Moon.”
He said they won’t rely on the TRN to safely land this first mission, which will primarily be a technology demonstration. However, Astrobotic’s second lunar mission, using the larger Griffin lander, will need this capability because it allows for a much more precise landing at the Moon’s south pole.
“We’re going to take that sensor, the data, and all the performance that it does in Peregrine.” We’re going to learn from that and apply the lessons learned at Griffin at that time for that sensor to be looped in and be trusted to determine a precise landing ellipse,” Hendrickson said.
The Griffin lander is expected to launch in 2024. in November and will carry NASA’s VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) payload. Although they are two different landers, Hendrickson said the development of each helped inform the other.
“We’re trying to keep our landers as common as possible, which is something I’ve been pleased to see while we’ve been running Peregrine, and Griffin is watching the lessons that both programs have actually learned over time,” Hendrickson said. . “They may look very different, carry different payloads, but ultimately they are both lunar landing missions.”
Learning lessons for Artemis as well
Astrobotics is not only about scientific landings and robotic missions to the moon, but ultimately about humans. The company is one of six corporations participating in a national team led by Blue Origin that is developing a crew lander as part of NASA’s program. Human Landing System Program.
The TRN, which will be tested and developed on Peregrine and Griffin, will also take into account Blue Moon’s Landing, Navigation and Control (GNC) system.
“We’ve been naturally developing our lunar mapping tool for years now. So we’re really excited to be able to help Blue Origin with the tools and core expertise that we have,” Hendrickson said. “Of course, we will share the lessons we learned from this mission with the National Team as much as possible. We also help in the development of the cargo accommodation system in the future.
He noted that while they are optimistic about this first landing attempt, spaceflight is no easy feat and that “the Moon is a harsh mistress, as they say.”
“If there are any problems, we will learn from them and move on.” This is a program that is built for the long term. We are here to stay,” Hendrickson said. “We’re really excited to do multiple missions in the future.” So, every flight is a learning opportunity, success or failure, it doesn’t matter. And we certainly plan to learn from the mission and improve our future missions using all the data and experience gained.
“But again, we feel really good. We’ve been doing a lot of mission simulations over the last few months, practicing all the operations on the way to the moon: the actual power landing, then the payload operations on the surface,” he added. “We feel ready, confident and raring to go.”
When the #VulcanRocket launches on its initial flight, nearly half of the thrust from Space Launch Complex-41 comes from a pair of GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters. The first solid rocket booster of the #Cert1 mission on our #CountdowntoVulcan was installed today. pic.twitter.com/2ueXWmXacM