SpaceX Won’t Be First Company To Land On The Moon If Jeff Bezos Delivers

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As part of an announcement made yesterday, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania based aerospace and robotics firm Astrobotic Technology revealed its Peregrine lunar lander. Astrobotic is aiming to become one of the first companies to land a lunar lander on the Moon's surface, and the Peregrine lander will use the United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan rocket for its journey. Its launch is set to take place during the fourth quarter of this year, and Astrobotic's chief executive officer (CEO) Mr. John Thornton confirmed during yesterday's event, hosted by the Keystone Space Collaborative, that the Vulcan is on schedule to meet his company's launch target.

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The ULA Vulcan is a new rocket that is part of American efforts to wean the crucial national security space launch segment away from Russian-made engines. Prior to Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets, ULA was the primary go-to company for governmental agencies to launch their satellites. Its rockets use Russian engines and after legal changes, the company is required to use U.S.-built engines for all its future rockets.

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Its Vulcan Centaur rocket will use two of Blue Origin's BE-4 liquid natural gas-fuelled oxygen-rich rocket engines with each capable of generating 540,000 pounds-feet of thrust. These engines have been quite controversial in the world of rocketry, with their persistent delays after originally being envisaged to complete their development in 2017. Since then, the company has made several management changes, and currently, sentiment indicates that the BE-4 might finally be on track for its delivery.

Comments made by Mr. Thornton at the start of yesterday's event are the latest indication of steady progress on the BE-4. As his lunar lander announcement kicked off, the executive explained that the Peregrine will become the first commercial lander to go to the surface of the moon. The launch will take place in the fourth quarter of this year and is on schedule as of now.

The Peregrine lunar lander in all its glory was visible yesterday. Image: Astrobotic

The executive shared more details about the BE-4 engines in statements made to The Verge. He shared that the BE-4 engines are on track to be delivered to ULA in the middle of this year. This belief is based on assurances that Mr. Thornton has received from the launch provider, and he has “no reason to doubt” them.

If Blue Origin does deliver, then the ULA will become the first American rocket to take a payload to the Moon in decades. Blue Origin is planning its own lunar missions, in the form of a lander that was recently approved by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for initial design. The company came to the forefront of the industry late last year when it strongly protested NASA's decision to award SpaceX with a multi-billion dollar contract to launch the first astronauts on the Moon. This contract will see SpaceX use its Starship rocket to conduct missions for NASA's Artemis program, which is a multi-year, multi-mission initiative that aims to develop a presence on the Moon.

SpaceX's lunar Starship is aiming for its first test flight in 2024, and it appears that its development progress has satisfied NASA. The space agency announced earlier this year that it plans to extend SpaceX's lunar Starship contract to add more missions, which will be part of its efforts to develop a sustainable lunar presence. SpaceX is currently developing the Starship rocket (different from the lunar Starship) in its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, and it plans to conduct an orbital test flight after securing the required approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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