Two engines built by Kent-based Blue Origin helped launch the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket into space Monday, Jan. 8 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with a planned 46-day journey to reach the moon’s surface.
Once the unmanned flight is on the Moon, NASA instruments will study the lunar exosphere, thermal properties of the lunar regolith, hydrogen abundances in the soil at the landing site, and conduct radiation environment monitoring, according to NASA. The five NASA science and research payloads aboard the lunar lander, built by Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will help the agency better understand planetary processes and evolution, search for evidence of water and other resources, and support long-term, sustainable human exploration.
“Vulcan’s inaugural launch ushers in a new, innovative capability to meet the ever-growing requirements of space launch,” said Tory Bruno, United Launch Alliance’s president and CEO in a press release. “Vulcan will provide high performance and affordability while continuing to deliver our superior reliability and orbital precision for all our customers across the national security, civil and commercial markets. Vulcan continues the legacy of Atlas as the world’s only high-energy architecture rocket.”
In 2018, Colorado-based United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, selected an engine from Kent-based Blue Origin to power its next-generation rocket known as the Vulcan Centaur. The initial flight was expected to be in 2020 when first announced, but was delayed by about four years.
“The first CLPS (commercial lunar payload services) launch has sent payloads on their way to the moon – a giant leap for humanity as we prepare to return to the lunar surface for the first time in over half a century,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“These high-risk missions will not only conduct new science at the moon, but they are supporting a growing commercial space economy while showing the strength of American technology and innovation. We have so much science to learn through CLPS missions that will help us better understand the evolution of our solar system and shape the future of human exploration for the Artemis Generation.”
Astrobotic’s first Peregrine Lunar Lander is scheduled to land on the moon on Friday, Feb. 23, according to NASA, and will spend approximately 10 days gathering valuable scientific data studying Earth’s nearest neighbor and helping pave the way for the first woman and first person of color to explore the moon under Artemis.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos started Blue Origin in 2000 in Kent.
NASA wants to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
Despite the smooth launch, a Monday, Jan. 8 afternoon report by USA Today said shortly into its flight, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander encountered a problem with its propulsion that is causing it to lose a critical amount of propellant, the Pittsburgh-based aerospace company said. All appeared well when Astrobotic was able to make contact with the vehicle, but the snag now threatens the spacecraft’s ability to land on the moon at all.