NASA’s Payload Costs For Lunar Lander Jump By 36% For Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission

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NASA’s upcoming launch of the first American lunar lander to the Moon, set for an attempt this coming Monday, also faced a massive cost increase after disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic upended nearly everything, everywhere. NASA is sending five payloads to the lunar surface on the Peregrine lunar lander on the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, and details shared by the agency during a media teleconference earlier today revealed that the contract cost is now $108 million.

NASA & ULA’s Upcoming Lunar Lander Launch On Monday Faces Long Delay If It Misses Early Monday Morning Launch

The first Vulcan launch is slated for Monday just after midnight, and at the teleconference, the Cape’s weather officer Melody Lovin explained that Sunday night and soon afterward is perfect for a launch, but higher winds later during the day on Monday mean that if the Peregrine launch is delayed on Monday, then it is likely to face a 24 hr+ delay.

Astrobotic CEO John Thorton shared that his firm had to overcome a lot of challenges and critics on its journey to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as the first private American firm to send a lunar lander to the Moon. Astrobotic received a $79.5 million contract for the Peregrine lunar lander in May 2019, a little less a year before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted industrial supply chains.

Peregrine will carry 20 payloads from private and public customers in six countries. Five of these are for NASA, and since 2019, the cost of these five payloads has grown by 36%. According to NASA’s Joel Kearns, supply chain disruptions due to the COVID emergency led NASA to accept applications for adjustments in contract value. NASA and Astrobotic have also teamed up to send the agency’s VIPER lander to the Moon through the Griffin lander.

The ULA Centaur V with NASA’s CLPS payload. Image: United Launch Alliance

For its part, the ULA will resume its launch countdown at 3 p.m. Sunday local time for a launch roughly two hours past midnight on Monday. The Vulan was rolled to the pad earlier today after all teams gave a go to proceed at the launch readiness reviews yesterday, explained ULA vice president for government and commercial programs, Gary Wentz.

After launch, the Vulcan Centaur upper stage will send the lander into an elliptical orbit at roughly 225,000 miles above the Earth. Since it’s the first launch of the new rocket and upper stage, after Peregrine is deployed, ULA will evaluate the Centaur under two and a half hours of tests for missions such as launching payloads directly to geostationary orbit.

Among these tests will be a crucial third startup test of the RL-10 rocket engine. Multiple engine startups are essential for longer duration second stage glides as they give it more thrust to maneuver itself around the Earth.

As far as the contract value goes, the contract value to send the five experiments on their way to the Moon on Peregrine is $108 million – up from the earlier $79.5 million award. The real money maker for Astrobotic when it comes to NASA’s CLPS (commercial lunar payload services) program is the Griffin lander. The Griffin will take NASA’s Viper to the Moon, and it was delayed to a late 2024 launch in 2022 as NASA requested Astrobitic run additional tests as part of a sweet $199.5 million contract before the new requirement.

After it separates from the Centaur, the Peregrine will make a phasing loop around Earth, carry out trajectory correction maneuvers, power itself up and point itself to the Sun. Once it reaches the Moon, the lander will start at a high elliptical orbit. After descending to a medium elliptical orbit, it will change to a circular orbit before an hour long descent to the lunar surface from an altitude of 100 kilometers in February.

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