Commercial spacefarers set to land on the Moon with Monday launch

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is poised to lead the United States’ return to the Moon, before the Artemis program puts human footprints on the lunar surface at the end of the decade.

In doing so, it will likely become the first commercial enterprise to successfully land on the lunar surface while marking the US’ return more than 50 years after its last Apollo lunar lander touched down.

While a commercial venture, Astrobotic’s mission is NASA-funded and part of the Artemis program which kicked into action in 2022 when it sent the Orion spacecraft into Moon orbit.

It’s currently scheduled to launch on Monday morning (local time) on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, which completed refuelling in late December.

Astrobotic’s foray into space – dubbed Peregrine One – will help NASA and several other space agencies deliver a payload of 21 items to the Moon. While several of these include symbolic artifacts like a ‘Lunar Bitcoin’ from the Seychelles and several space memorials, it will also convey several scientific instruments.

Among them, will be five robots, each weighing about 60g, from Agencia Espacial Mexicana – the Mexican space agency. This will also mark the first lunar landing of scientific instruments from a Latin American nation.

A robotic rover developed by Carnegie Mellon University, US, with Astrobotic, will also be deployed via the Peregrine lander.

Originally scheduled to launch in December, delays have pushed Astrobotic’s mission back to its anticipated January deployment. February 23 has been marked as the landing date for the project.

A second commercial venture operated by Houston-based Intuitive Machines is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in February. Its Nova-C lander, which will carry 11 items and instruments for NASA and other private companies, is currently being integrated into the launch vehicle.

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