A United States of America (USA) rocket bound for the moon will take off early on December 24, 2023, with two other instantaneous launch opportunities set for Dec. 25 and 26 if the first window becomes unsuccessful.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at around 1:49 AM Eastern Standard Time on Christmas Eve.
The vice president of Vulcan Development at ULA, Mark Peller, described the rocket as “evolutionary” as it incorporates new technology at all levels targeted at advancing the American aeronautic and space exploration objectives to pave the way for the return of humans to the moon through a series of Certifications missions backed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The Vulcan Centaur is fitted with complex rocket boosters and a modernized Centaur V upper stage that functions as a payload bay carrying the Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander that will be the first private US spacecraft to touch down on the surface of the moon after the Apollo program ended in 1972, over 51 years ago.
Though Peregrine will have none on board, it will carry other instruments like NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) that seek to stimulate lunar research and explore the space economy under Artemis crewed missions.
“One of the big challenges of what we’re attempting here is attempting a launch and landing on the surface moon for a fraction of what it would otherwise cost,” John Thornton, the CEO of Astrobotic, was quoted by journalists in one of the press briefings before the launch date.
The Peregrine lunar lander will take some unspecified days to reach the lunar orbit, after which it will hang around conducting landing site identification, mapping proper sunlit regions, and deriving the meter-scale topography of the specific area before executing a Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver (LOI-1) to land on the moon on January 25, 2023.