A brand new U.S. rocket is on the way to the Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch pad, and for the first time in more than 50 years, an American spacecraft will head toward the surface of the moon. The rocket is called Vulcan and is built by United Launch Alliance. Here's what you need to know about its maiden flight.
When is the launch and how do I watch it?
The launch is scheduled for Monday at 2:18 a.m. Eastern. There will be coverage Broadcast on NASA TV Starts at 1:30 p.m
The rocket launched at 3:58 p.m., according to ULA, and the mission's countdown continues “smoothly.” Forecasts give an 85 percent chance of continued favorable weather. If the launch is delayed to Tuesday, weather conditions will worsen, with favorable conditions only 30 percent possible.
Jan. 10th and 11th January have additional release opportunities.
To what orbit does the moon travel?
Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology is sending a robotic spacecraft, Peregrine, to the sinus viscidatis—Latin for “bay of stickiness”—the enigmatic region near the moon. NASA is paying AstroBotics $108 million to take five experiments that are part of the space agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS. The project aims to reduce the cost of sending objects to the lunar surface.
What is a Vulcan rocket and why is it important?
Developed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the Vulcan rocket will replace the company's two existing rockets, the Altas V and Delta IV.
Since United Launch Alliance was formed in 2006, its core business has been launching top-secret military payloads for the US government. Its rockets are expensive — too expensive for most commercial customers — but very reliable. With Vulcan, ULA is seeking a larger share of the commercial market. It has already sold more than 70 Vulcan missiles, including 38 to Amazon, which is building Project Kuiper, a cluster of Internet communications satellites.
The United States Space Force would like to see two successful Vulcan launches. Monday's release is the first certificate release. The second could happen as soon as April. Dream Chaser, an unmanned space shuttle built by Sierra Space of Louisville, Colo., is on a mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
If those flights are successful, four additional Vulcan launches this year will carry Space Force payloads into orbit.
Why is a rocket's payload controversial?
Navajo Nation objects to human ashes and DNA on Astrobotik's peregrine lander.
In addition to the five NASA experiments, Astrobotic's Peregrine lander also carries several payloads for commercial customers. Among them are Celestis and Elysium Space, companies that memorialize some of the human remains by sending them into space.
On Thursday, Navajo Nation Chief Buu Nygren said in a statement that he had sent a letter to NASA and the US Department of Transportation calling for the launch to be postponed.
“The moon is deeply embedded in the spirituality and tradition of many tribal cultures, including our own,” he wrote. “The placement of human remains on the Moon is a profound interpretation of this celestial body revered by our people.”
During news conferences, NASA officials noted that they were not responsible for the mission and did not directly comment on other payloads sold on the astrobotic Peregrine.
“An intergovernmental meeting has been set up with the Navajo Nation, which NASA supports,” Joel Kearns, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said during a news conference Thursday.
John Thornton, Astrobotic's chief executive, said Friday that he was disappointed that “this conversation came so late in the game” because his company announced the participation of Celestis and Elysium several years ago.
“We're really trying to do the right thing,” said Mr. Thornton said. “I believe we can find a good path with the Navajo Nation.”