UPDATE: ULA Vulcan Launch With CEO’s DNA On Christmas Eve28th Oct 2023
Christmas is coming for United Launch Alliance (ULA), who are expecting to finally launch their Vulcan rocket this Christmas Eve, 24th December. The announcement details that payloads on the maiden launch will include a commercial Moon lander and memorabilia. CNBC broke the story after interviewing ULA CEO Tory Bruno at their Technology Executive Council Summit.
Bruno said the launch is set to go ahead between the 24th and 26th of December. However, should they encounter more delays – which have plagued the rocket in recent years after testing anomalies and development setbacks – the launch will be moved to January.
Many of ULA’s obstructions, however, arise from delays with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines. Nevertheless, previous static-fire tests of the Vulcan rocket, which included the BE-4 engines, were successful, and now, a launch date is marked on the calendar.
Update: 28th November
Space.com reports that the Vulcan rocket will fly the DNA of ULA CEO Tory Bruno and his wife, Rebecca.
If everything unfolds as scheduled, this occasion will align with their 38th wedding anniversary. Bruno, who has served as the CEO of ULA since 2014, has been instrumental in advancing various defence and space launch technologies over the past four decades.
Update: 31 October
Astrobotic’s inaugural lunar lander, Peregrine, has reached its final destination in Florida for the last round of preparations before its launch on Christmas Eve. On 31 October, Astrobotic announced the arrival of Peregrine at a payload processing facility operated by Astrotech in Cape Canaveral. The lander had been shipped from Astrobotic’s headquarters in Pittsburgh the previous week. Peregrine is slated to undergo necessary procedures by United Launch Alliance for its upcoming launch aboard the first Vulcan Centaur flight.
Taking Cremated Remains Into Deep Space & The Moon
Payloads on board include two incomparable inclusions: a commercial lunar lander and Celestis memorabilia. The latter are cremated ashes and DNA, which will drift 3 million kilometres into deep space onboard a Celestis Enterprise Flight. The rocket will carry DNA samples of “Star Trek” celebrities such as Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and series creator Gene Roddenberry.
Xtraordinary Innovative Space Partnerships (XISP) have developed the Alpha CubeSat that will store the remains and take them past the Earth-Moon system into deep space.
The Tranquility flight, on the other hand, is a partnership with Astrobotic. Their Lunar lander will take the cremated remains to the Northeast side of the Moon. Celestis said the payload: “will remain on the lunar surface as a permanent tribute to the intrepid souls who never stopped reaching for the stars.”
Astrobotics Lunar Lander
The main payload onboard is the aforementioned lunar lander from Astrobotic. Called Peregrine, the lander was expected to touch down on the lunar surface in 2021. However, a “test article anomaly” with the Vulcan rocket placed further setbacks on the fully constructed lander.
The space robotics company said Peregrine has been prepared for launch since February 2023 with flight approval granted in January. However, with the recent announcement from ULA, the lander will now embark on its Lunar mission this Christmas Eve. Slated as the world’s first commercial Moon lander, Astrobotic said in late 2019 they signed on 16 customers, in which 14 payloads onboard are for NASA, in addition to the Celestis Tranquility cargo.
A Great Year For ULA Launches
According to ULA, the remaining touches to finish the rocket are currently underway. Bruno told CNBC they are in the midst of finalising the upper stage, which is expected in November. ULA will also parallelly qualify the upper stage, which again, is expected to be complete in November.
Once Vulcan launches, it will be an addition to an already successful year for ULA. In October, ULA launched their Atlas V 501 rocket carrying Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites. Similarly, in September, the same Atlas V rocket successfully delivered the National Reconnaissance Office’s SILENTBARKER/NROL-107 mission. Prior to that, ULA also launched their ‘penultimate’ Delta IV heavy rocket.