The first payload ready for NASA’s industry-led moon missions has arrived in Florida. The Peregrine lunar lander was unloaded inside a clean room on the Space Coast after leaving Astrobotic’s facilities in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Friday, Astrobotic announced on Halloween.
The mission will be the first for both Astrobotic and its voyage into space, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. President and CEO Torey Bruno said in a tweet on Tuesday that the December 24 launch time is 1:49 a.m. EST (0649 UTC).
“It’s incredibly exciting. We’ve been talking about this mission for 16 years as an organization, and it’s our first mission to the moon, and now it’s finally here,” said Dan Hendrickson, vice president of business development at Astrobotic. “The team is ecstatic and eager to get off the launch pad and get ready.” To fly. “So really, it’s a dream come true now that we’re here.”
Hendrickson spoke with Spaceflight Now on the sidelines of the American Astronautical Society’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium on October 27, the day the Peregrine lander arrived in Florida.
Hendrickson said the launch will be fairly easy, now that they are in the Sunshine State. Teams with Astrobotic have been working with ULA for months on refueling and transfer steps to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility and integration atop Centaur 5’s upper stage, he said.
“We built Peregrine in a 100,000-class clean room to our standards of cleanliness for the spacecraft. And so we maintained that environment during its transit and through the packaging process,” Hendrickson said. “That process and that flow has been maintained and will continue throughout the launch process. “
We spoke with Vice President of Business Development Dan Hendrickson about the lander’s journey to the launch pad and the launch of NET on December 24.
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The Shaheen’s path to the moon
After Vulcan lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and separates from the rocket, Hendrickson said the first step is to power it as it flies on the first lunar-bound loop.
“So, this gives us an opportunity to check out the vehicle, and understand its performance, because it’s the first time it’s flown in space,” Hendrickson said. “It will come back around the Earth. It will fire the slingshot and then come out to meet the Moon where it will be at that point.”
From there, Peregrine will perform a lunar orbit insertion burn to move into a highly elliptical orbit, Hendrickson said. After that, it will enter a less elliptical orbit, and then finally, it will circle around in a 100 x 100 km ellipse.
The spacecraft will remain in this orbit “until lunar lighting conditions are just right.”
“We want to land early in the morning at the landing site. So, we will wait until those lighting conditions match,” Hendrickson said. “And then, we will begin the automated descent to the surface.”
Because the lander uses a hyperactive propulsion system (fluids that spontaneously react when they come into contact with each other), Hendrickson said, it is able to remain in this circular orbit before eventually starting the automated landing sequence.
“We don’t have any problems with propellant outgassing over time, so it gives us a lot of flexibility,” he said. “We’ll be fine waiting for any kind of lighting conditions. The full opportunities and launch windows available to us will allow us to stay as long as we ultimately need the car.
In a nominal scenario, Hendrickson said it would take 30 to 39 days from launch to landing on the moon. Assuming ULA is able to launch during the December 24-26 period, that would set up a landing around late January 2024.
When asked if a different launch and landing strategy had been considered to allow for a larger launch period each month, Hendrickson said this was the best option.
“We worked with ULA to maximize all the opportunities available. We wanted to make sure that Peregrine had the best possible chance of succeeding on its way to the surface and give it the best possible chance of landing,” Hendrickson said. “So, we worked very closely with them during the time we were contracted together.” . It was a great working relationship and we found the right fit.
The Peregrine lander is scheduled to touch down in Sinus Viscositatis, which translates to “Bay of Stickiness.” 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 journey to the moon, and said the landing will be live-streamed.
Due to Intuitive Machines’ delayed launch of the Nova-C lander, Peregrine-1 will be the first mission launched under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Similar to the Commercial Crew Program, NASA will be a paying customer and will fly various payloads aboard commercial landers bound for the Moon.
However, if it keeps its launch date, the IM-1 mission should reach the lunar surface shortly before Peregrine-1 lands.
Once on the surface, Hendrickson said Peregrine is designed to work for about eight to 10 days. They carry 21 loads on board, a mix of commercial and government items.
Astrobotic secured one of the first task orders under the CLPS program in 2019, valued at $79.5 million. The agency named it Task Order 2 – AB (TO2-AB). Originally, it was scheduled to carry up to 14 NASA payloads, of which ten were considered for later in development. However, five of them have been moved to future CLPS missions, according to an April 2023 update from NASA.
NASA’s five remaining payloads are from Ames Research Center (ARC), Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), and Johnson Space Center (JSC):
- Laser Reflector Array (LRA) – GSFC
- Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) – JSC
- Near Infrared Volatile Substance Spectrometry System (NIRVSS) – ARC
- Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS) – ARC
- Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) – GSFC/ESA
Peregrine-1 will also carry the Carnegie Mellon University-built Iris rover, which is expected to become the first American lunar robot sent to the Moon.
The other payload aboard the ship will be a technology demonstration called the Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) sensor, which was developed through a $10 million contract with NASA Tipping Point in partnership with JSC, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Moog.
“We are in an environment where GPS is not available, so from the beginning of our program we valued this sensor, as we needed to develop it internally. It is a very important capability that we need to have for our landers,” Hendrickson said. “It is an opportunity.” “To test hardware as well as algorithms that will visually identify key features to help the spacecraft understand where it is in space relative to the Moon.”
He said they will not rely on the TRN to land safely on this first mission, which will allow it to be primarily a technology demonstration. Astrobotic’s second moon mission, using the larger Griffin lander, will need this capability, since it makes a more precise landing at the moon’s south pole.
“We’ll take the performance of that sensor and the data and the entire performance that it’s running on Peregrine. We’ll learn from that and apply the lessons learned from Griffin to this sensor, which will then be in the loop and be relied upon for this precise downward ellipse,” Hendrickson said.
The Griffin lander is scheduled to launch in November 2024 and will carry NASA’s VIPER (Volatile Exploration Polar Vehicle) payload. Although they are two different types of lander, Hendrickson said the development of each helped inform elements about the other.
“We try to have as much in common between our landers as possible, and what I’ve been happy to observe in my time as we’ve been implementing it on Peregrine, and Griffin is actually seeing the lessons learned between both programs over time,” Hendrickson said. . “They may look very different, they carry different payloads, but in the end they are both missions to land on the moon.”
Learn lessons for Artemis too
Astrobotic is not only interested in lunar landing science and robotic missions, but also in humans. The company is one of six participating in the national team led by Blue Origin, which is developing a manned lander as part of NASA’s Human Landing System program.
The TRN that will be tested and developed with Peregrine and Griffin will also take into account the Blue Moon lander’s guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system.
“We’ve been organically developing our own lunar mapping instrument for years now. So, we’re very excited to help Blue Origin by providing the essential tools and expertise that we have,” Hendrickson said. “Certainly, we will share the lessons we learned from this mission as much as we can.” With the national team. We also help with the cargo assimilation system for the future.
He pointed out that although they are optimistic about this first landing attempt, space flight is not easy and “the moon is a cruel mistress, as they say.”
“If there are any issues along the way, we will learn from them and move forward. This is a program that is built for the long term. We are here to stay,” Hendrickson said. “We are really excited to pursue multiple missions in the future. Therefore, every journey is an opportunity to learn, whether success or failure, it does not matter. We certainly plan to learn from the mission and improve our future missions with all the data and experience we gain.
“But again, we feel really good. We’ve done a lot of mission simulations over the past few months, rehearsing all the operations on the way to the Moon: the actual power landing, then the payload operations on the surface,” he added. “We are ready, we feel confident, and we are raring to go.”
when #Vulcan missile Launched on its inaugural flight, nearly half of the thrust for departing Space Launch Complex-41 comes from a pair of GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters. Today the first solid rocket booster for… #Certificate1 mission in our #Countdown to Vulcan. pic.twitter.com/2ueXWmXacM
-Ula (@ulalaunch) October 31, 2023
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