If the spacecraft reaches the moon, it would be the first time the US would have a soft landing there since 1972.
A mission to put the first commercial craft on the moon has blasted off from the United States.
Vulcan, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket carrying a robotic lunar lander, was launched on Monday at 02:18 EST (07:18 GMT) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The mission is part of an accelerating space race among private companies and would be the first-ever lunar landing by a private company. It would also be the first US landing on the moon in more than half a century.
The lunar lander, named Peregrine, was built by space robotics firm Astrobotic Technology. It is a passenger on the first flight of Vulcan. The rocket was developed by the joint Boeing-Lockheed venture ULA over the last decade.
“Everything looks just spot on, just perfect,” Eric Monda, a ULA mission official, said from the launch control room.
Welcome to the #VulcanRocket era!
Our official liftoff time was 2:18:38.231 a.m. EST (0718:38.231 UTC), right at the opening of the launch window on the first countdown. pic.twitter.com/sNxnUy44cF
— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 8, 2024
Commercial space race
If the spacecraft reaches the moon, it would signal the first US soft landing since the final Apollo landing in 1972. It would also be the first-ever lunar landing by a private company.
Peregrine is set to land on the moon on February 23. It is part of a mission to gather data about the lunar surface before planned future human missions.
The launch also marks the first trek to the moon’s surface as part of NASA’s Artemis lunar programme.
The launch was essential for ULA, which developed Vulcan to replace its Atlas V rocket and rival the reusable Falcon 9 from Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the satellite launch market.
Astrobotic aims to be the first private business to successfully land on the moon. Only four countries have managed to do that: the US, Russia, China, and India.
Private companies with hopes of spurring a lunar marketplace have had harder times, with Japan’s ispace and an Israeli company crash-landing on their first attempts.
However, the race among private space operators continues. US company Intuitive Machines also has spacecraft ready to fly and it hopes to beat Astrobotic, which is due to touch down on February 23, as it takes a more direct path.
“First to launch. First to land is TBD,” said Astrobotic chief executive John Thornton.