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  • Voltaire Staff

ULA Vulcan Centaur rockets off Florida station to Moon with human remains

An image of ULA rocket taking off

United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan Centaur on Monday rocketed off its inaugural flight, Cert-1, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, carrying five scientific instruments from NASA and human remains from 66 people.  

The US had last landed a mission on moon in December 1972, when Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th individuals to walk on the moon, marking the culmination of NASA's Apollo programme.

Launching at 2.18 am EST (0718 GMT), Vulcan ascended into the sky with nearly 2 million pounds of thrust, propelled by the rocket's two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and two Blue Origin-built BE-4 first-stage engines.

At the pinnacle of the rocket was Astrobotic's Peregrine moon lander, a Pittsburgh-based company carrying 20 diverse customer payloads, including five NASA science instruments.

The 202-foot-tall (62 metres) Vulcan, shrouded in a pillar of exhaust, ascended from its launch tower and vanished into the dark Florida night, reported Roughly two minutes into the journey, the SRBs successfully detached from Vulcan's first-stage booster, which persisted in its ascent through Earth's atmosphere.

Five minutes after liftoff, Vulcan's first stage concluded its engine operation and separated from the Centaur upper stage. Following a 15-second coast phase, Centaur initiated the first of three burns, with the initial burn lasting about 30 seconds and a subsequent four-minute translunar injection burn half an hour later. Approximately 50.5 minutes post-launch, Peregrine, the rocket's primary payload, was released, embarking on its journey toward the moon.

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno, exclaimed, "Yeehaw! I am so thrilled, I can't tell you how much," upon Peregrine's successful deployment.

If Peregrine accomplishes its planned landing next month, it will become the first American spacecraft to touch the moon's surface since Apollo 17 in 1972 and potentially the first private mission to achieve the feat. In a contemporary lunar race, Houston-based Intuitive Machines is also launching a moon mission, with its lander, Nova-C, potentially landing a day earlier than Peregrine.

Peregrine's mission holds great significance, particularly for NASA, featuring several firsts. NASA's five scientific payloads aboard the lunar lander are part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, representing the programme's initial service fulfilment.

One of the payloads on Peregrine is human remains of 66 people sent by space memorial company Celestis. Their remains will be permanently situated on the moon's surface following the mission's landing.

Joel Kearns, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said, "It's a totally new way of doing business, and (the Peregrine mission) is going to be our first data of how it's gonna go."

NASA's CLPS contracts have implications for its Artemis programme, striving to land astronauts on the moon in 2025 or 2026 and establish a lunar base soon after, particularly in the moon's southern polar region.

Kearns said programmes like CLPS allow NASA to concentrate on cutting-edge research and development, enabling the agency to acquire services from industry for tasks within industry capabilities.

The five NASA science payloads aboard Peregrine will assess the lunar environment after landing, with instruments such as the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) using mirrors and lasers to measure precise distances. The Lunar Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) will gauge radiation in the spacecraft's environment, both in lunar orbit and on the moon's surface.


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