United States | The private sector heads to the Moon

A brand new rocket was to take off overnight from Sunday to Monday, with on board the first American device to attempt to land on the Moon in more than 50 years – this time designed by a private company. A first step which should relaunch a series of missions supported by NASA towards our natural satellite.

NASA relies on the private sector


The rocket Vulcan Centaur of the ULA industrial group, in Cape Canaveral, Florida

The rocket Vulcan Centaur (approximately 60 m high) of the industrial group ULA, which brings together Boeing and Lockheed Martin, was to make its very first flight from Cape Canaveral, lifting itself from the ground at 2:18 a.m. Monday. The moon lander, named Peregrine, was built by the young company Astrobotic, with the support of NASA, which commissioned this company to transport scientific equipment to the Moon – a contract worth $108 million. The weather forecast looked rather favorable for takeoff on Monday, but much less so for the following three days – possible dates for withdrawal in the event of a postponement. If necessary, another shooting window will open on January 23.

Near mysterious lava domes


The moon landing Peregrine was built by the young company Astrobotic.

About 50 minutes after takeoff, Peregrine must separate from the rocket: Astrobotic will then power up the device and attempt to establish communication. If all goes well, the lander will then continue its route towards our natural satellite. Once in lunar orbit, the probe will wait until the lighting conditions are right to attempt to land. The targeted landing site is located on the visible side of the Moon, near mysterious domes formed by lava, but which scientists struggle to explain. Thanks to the instruments shipped, NASA must study the composition of the surface, as well as the radiation.

Towards a first for the private sector


The moon landing Peregrine at the Astrobotic facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

If Astrobotic manages to land on the Moon as planned on February 23, it could become the first company to achieve this feat. “Leading America’s return to the surface of the Moon, for the first time since Apollo, is a tremendous honor,” Astrobotic boss John Thornton said at a press conference on Friday. However, he said he was aware of the difficulty of the task and the risks of failure. In recent years, Israeli and Japanese companies have attempted to land on the moon, but those missions ended in crashes. A mission from the Japanese space agency (Jaxa) is also due to attempt to land on the moon in about two weeks. Russia, for its part, spectacularly missed a moon landing last summer.

Controversial ashes


The mission is transporting the ashes or DNA of dozens of people.

The mission has also caused controversy because it carries the ashes or DNA of dozens of people, including those of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. This is a partnership with the company Celestis, specializing in “commemorative spaceflights”. Sending these ashes to the Moon aroused the anger of the Navajo Native American tribe, who denounced the “desecration of a sacred place”. Heard Friday during a meeting with representatives of NASA, the American air regulator and the White House, the tribe did not obtain the postponement of the launch.

Objective: set foot on the Moon again


Astronaut Alan Shepard, during the Apollo 14 mission, conducting an experiment near a lunar crater

The launch should inaugurate a series of missions supported by the American space agency, which wishes to rely partly on the private sector for its lunar ambitions. This new strategy focusing on the private sector should allow NASA “to make the trip more often, more quickly and for less money,” explained Joel Kearns, a senior official within the space agency. These missions studying the lunar environment should make it possible to prepare for the return of astronauts to the Moon, which NASA is planning with its Artemis program. To date, only the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India have successfully landed a device on the Moon.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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