More than 50 years after the last Apollo mission, the United States will try again on January 25 to land a spacecraft on the Moon, according to John Thornton, CEO of the American company Astrobotic, which will be the first private company to reach -ot this success.
The lunar lander, called Peregrine, will not carry anyone aboard, but will carry five scientific instruments for NASA, which wants to study the lunar environment in preparation for its Artemis missions.
A few years ago, the US space agency decided to hire local companies to send scientific experiments and technology to the Moon, a program called CLPS.
These fixed-price contracts should help develop the lunar economy and provide this transportation service at a lower cost. “One of the biggest challenges of what we’re trying here is to try a launch and landing on the surface of the Moon for a fraction of what it would cost otherwise,” the head of the company, based in Pittsburgh, in the eastern United States.
“Only half of the missions that have been done on the surface of the Moon are successful,” he said. “It’s a scary challenge. “I’m scared and excited at the same time every episode.”
Takeoff is scheduled for December 24 from Florida aboard the inaugural flight of a new rocket from industrial group ULA, named Vulcan Centaur.
The probe will then take “a few days” to reach lunar orbit, but will have to wait until January 25 before attempting to land, so that the light conditions at the destination are sufficient, Thornton explained. The descent will be autonomous, without human intervention, but monitored from the company’s control center.
In the spring, the Japanese start-up ispace already tried to become the first private company to land on the moon, but the mission ended in an accident. Israel also failed in 2019.
Only four countries have successfully landed on the Moon: the United States, Russia, China and, most recently, India. In addition to Astrobotic, NASA has signed contracts with other companies, including Firefly Aerospace, Draper and Intuitive Machines. The latter will fly on a SpaceX rocket in January. With its Artemis program, NASA hopes to build a base on the surface of the Moon.