United Launch Alliance (ULA) is set to make history with the upcoming launch of its first-ever Vulcan rocket, which will also carry the private lunar lander Peregrine. The highly anticipated test flight is scheduled for January 8, 2024, at 2:18 a.m. EST from ULA’s Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The primary objective of this mission is to showcase the readiness of the Vulcan rocket for both commercial and government flights. The Peregrine moon lander, developed by Astrobotic, will play a pivotal role in this landmark event by carrying six experiments for NASA. This mission marks the inaugural flight of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, bringing the United States back to the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972 and achieving the first successful private moon landing.
In addition to the NASA experiments, the Peregrine lander will also transport various payloads from other customers. These include a delivery package for logistics giant DHL, a digital art gallery, and even human DNA samples and cremated remains for space burial companies Celestis and Elysium.
The launch has a 45-minute window, closing at 3:03 a.m. EST, and backup dates have been set for January 9, 10, and 11. However, the chances of a successful launch decrease on the backup dates due to the presence of thick clouds. Nonetheless, weather conditions on January 8 seem favorable, with an 85% chance of a successful launch.
For those who cannot witness the event in person, NASA and ULA will provide live webcasts starting at 1:30 a.m. EST. These webcasts can be accessed through NASA’s YouTube channel, NASA TV broadcast, ULA’s YouTube channel, and Space.com.
The entire Vulcan Centaur Cert-1 test flight is expected to last approximately 4 hours and 24 minutes. At that time, the Peregrine moon lander is scheduled to separate from the Centaur upper stage. In the event of an unsuccessful launch, ULA has three additional days within the launch window to attempt again. If necessary, they will have to wait until January 23 for another opportunity.
Update: There has been a correction regarding the timing of events. The Peregrine moon lander will separate from the rocket approximately 50 minutes after liftoff, while the Centaur upper stage will conclude its mission 4 hours and 24 minutes after liftoff.
The historic launch of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket is undoubtedly a significant moment for the aerospace industry and for the United States’ space exploration endeavors. It represents a leap forward in both commercial and government spaceflight capabilities, opening up new opportunities and paving the way for future missions.
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