A private US company has announced it will launch a lunar mission in 2019, 50 years after men walked on the Moon.
The company is called Astrobotic, and they had been one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPRIZE – a race to the Moon taking place this year. In late 2016, however, they announced they were dropping out of the competition to focus on a 2019 mission.
The company said they now had an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch their vehicle, called Peregrine, on an Atlas V rocket.
“Astrobotic is thrilled to select a ULA launch vehicle as the means to get Peregrine to the Moon,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, in a statement.
“The Moon is the next great frontier, but in a different way than when Neil Armstrong landed there,” added ULA CEO Tory Bruno. “Enabling technologies like those from Astrobotic will allow people to live and work in the space between here and the Moon.”
Astrobotic’s lunar lander will be stationary, carrying about 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of cargo to the Moon (you can read more about it here). This first mission will simply be a test of the technology, with a number of experiments on board. They’ve already signed 11 contracts with customers who want to take part.
But the bigger goal is perhaps more ambitious. They want Peregrine to become a regular service to the Moon, ultimately taking up to 265 kilograms (585 pounds) on each flight.
“The first mission in 2019 will serve as a key demonstration of service for NASA, international space agencies, and companies looking to carry out missions to the Moon,” Astrobotic said.
Private moon missions are certainly coming to the fore at the moment. We’ve already mentioned the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which later this year could see a handful of teams attempt to land on the Moon.
But the legality of doing so has been called into question lately. The US has been drawing up rules for commercial space travel, and one company – Moon Express – already has government approval for their mission. Some groups, however, have voiced concerns about existing heritage sites on the Moon, notably the Apollo lunar landing sites.
That hopefully won’t be a problem. But as more and more private companies announce missions to the Moon, and ultimately launch, things might get a bit interesting. That’s not a bad thing, mind.