A brand new American rocket is on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and for the first time in more than 50 years, an American spacecraft will head to the surface of the Moon. The rocket is called Vulcan and was built by the company United Launch Alliance. Here’s what you need to know about your first flight.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
The launch is scheduled for 2:18 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday. The cover will be broadcast on NASA Television from 1h30
The rocket was powered on at 3:58 p.m. according to ULA, and the mission countdown is proceeding “without problems”. The forecast continues to give an 85 percent chance of favorable weather. If the launch is delayed until Tuesday, weather conditions will deteriorate, with only a 30 percent chance of favorable conditions.
There are additional launch opportunities on January 10 and 11.
What is the lunar mission in orbit?
Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh is sending Peregrine, a robotic spacecraft, to land at Sinus Viscositatis – Latin for “Bay of Stickiness” – an enigmatic region located on the near side of the Moon. NASA is paying Astrobotic $108 million to conduct five experiments there, as part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program. The program aims to reduce the cost of sending items to the lunar surface.
What is the Vulcan rocket and why is it important?
The Vulcan rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, will replace the company’s two current rockets, the Altas V and Delta IV.
Since United Launch Alliance’s founding in 2006, its primary business has been launching top-secret military payloads for the United States government. Its rockets were expensive – too expensive for most commercial customers – but very reliable. With Vulcan, ULA is aiming for a larger share of the commercial market. It has already sold more than 70 Vulcan launches, including 38 to Amazon as part of the construction of Project Kuiper, a constellation of Internet communications satellites.
The US Space Force would like to see two successful Vulcan launches before embarking one of its payloads. Monday’s launch is the first certification launch. A second could occur as early as April. This would transport Dream Chaser, an uncrewed spaceplane built by Sierra Space of Louisville, Colorado, on a cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station.
If these flights are successful, four additional Vulcan launches this year would carry Space Force payloads into orbit.
Why is the rocket’s payload causing controversy?
The Navajo Nation objects to the presence of human ashes and DNA aboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander.
In addition to NASA’s five experiments, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander also carries several payloads for commercial customers. These include Celestis and Elysium Space, companies that memorialize people by sending some of their remains into space.
On Thursday, Buu Nygren, president of the Navajo Nation, said in a statement that he had sent a letter to NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation calling for the launch to be postponed.
“The moon is deeply rooted in the spirituality and heritage of many indigenous cultures, including our own,” he wrote. “The placement of human remains on the Moon is a profound decree of this celestial body revered by our people.”
At press conferences, NASA officials stressed that they were not in charge of the mission and had no say in other payloads sold by Astrobotic on Peregrine.
“There is an intergovernmental meeting being held with the Navajo Nation that NASA will support,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA, said at a news conference Thursday.
John Thornton, Astrobotic’s chief executive, said Friday that he was disappointed that “this conversation happened so late in the game” because his company had announced the involvement of Celestis and Elysium years ago. .
“We’re really trying to do the right thing,” Mr. Thornton said. “I hope we can find a good path forward with the Navajo Nation.”