Astrobotic selects Falcon Heavy to launch NASA’s VIPER lunar rover

WASHINGTON — Astrobotic has signed a contract with SpaceX for the launch of its Griffin lunar lander, carrying a NASA lunar rover, on a Falcon Heavy in 2023.

Astrobotic introduced April 13 that it chosen SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for its Griffin Mission 1 lunar lander mission, which is able to ship the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) spacecraft to the south pole of the moon in late 2023. Astrobotic gained a NASA competitors by way of the Business Lunar Payload Providers (CLPS) program final yr to move VIPER on its Griffin lunar lander.

“Attending to the moon isn’t nearly constructing a spacecraft, however having an entire mission resolution. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy completes our Griffin Mission 1 resolution by offering a confirmed launch automobile to hold us on our trajectory to the moon,” Daniel Gillies, director of Griffin Mission 1 at Astrobotic, stated in an announcement.

Astrobotic declined to reveal the phrases of the deal. SpaceX publishes a listing value of $90 million on its web site for Falcon Heavy, though some authorities contracts for Falcon Heavy missions have been considerably costlier. Astrobotic additionally declined to determine what different launch choices it thought of for the mission.

VIPER is a NASA mission to analyze completely shadowed areas of craters on the lunar south pole that will include deposits of water ice that might function sources for future crewed missions. It’s designed to function for 100 days after touchdown.

NASA initially deliberate to launch VIPER in 2022, with a mission value of $250 million. Nonetheless, NASA postponed the launch to late 2023 to provde extra time for work to extend VIPER’s mission life from 14 to 100 days. That, in flip, drove up the price of VIPER to $433.5 million, NASA disclosed in March.

VIPER is the most important mission that’s a part of CLPS, a NASA initiative to buy payload lodging on business lunar landers. Astrobotic gained a $199.5 million process order in June 2020 to ship VIPER to the lunar floor on its Griffin lander.

Many of the landers flying CLPS missions chosen up to now will launch on SpaceX. Intuitive Machines, which gained CLPS process orders for 2 lander missions, will launch every on Falcon 9 autos late this yr and in 2022. Masten Area Programs chosen SpaceX to offer launch providers for its XL-1 lander mission, which gained a CLPS award for a late 2022 mission.

Astrobotic will launch its first CLPS mission, a smaller lunar lander known as Peregrine, on the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur presently scheduled for late this yr. Firefly Aerospace, which gained the latest CLPS award in January, has not chosen a launch supplier but for its Blue Ghost lander, however famous the lander is simply too massive to launch on the corporate’s personal Alpha rocket.

The Astrobotic contract provides to a rising backlog for the Falcon Heavy, which has not flown because the Area Take a look at Program (STP) 2 mission in June 2019. The subsequent Falcon Heavy launch is anticipated no sooner than July, carrying a categorised payload for the U.S. Area Drive. One other Falcon Heavy launch for the Area Drive is scheduled for late this yr.

SpaceX has gained NASA contracts for Falcon Heavy, together with the launch of the Psyche mission the metallic asteroid of the identical title in 2022 and, in February, the primary two parts of the lunar Gateway in 2024. Falcon Heavy can be the front-runner for the continued competitors to launch the Europa Clipper mission after NASA concluded that mission couldn’t launch on the Area Launch System as initially deliberate.

Gillies, the Astrobotic supervisor for Griffin Mission 1, beforehand labored at SpaceX, the place he was a mission integrator for the STP-2 Falcon Heavy launch. “Having beforehand sat on the opposite aspect of the desk as a former SpaceX mission supervisor, I’m totally conscious of SpaceX’s capabilities and processes and am excited to be working with SpaceX on a mission as soon as once more,” he stated.

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