SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch moon lander with NASA water-hunting rover

Launch with Astrobotic’s Griffin moon lander slated for 2023

Astrobotic's Griffin lander will carry NASA's VIPER to the moon in 2023. (Image: Astrobotic) (WKMG 2021)

Astrobotic has selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to launch its moon lander carrying a NASA mission in 2023, the Pittsburgh-based private company announced Tuesday.

The Griffin-1 lander will be carrying NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration, known as VIPER. Astrobotic was selected by NASA in 2020 to deliver VIPER to the south pole of the moon under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. It’s one of several planned moon launches for the private company in the next few years.

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Falcon Heavy will launch Griffin from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a trajectory to the moon. Once it lands, the rover will roll down Griffin’s ramps to survey the moon, searching for ice made of water. Researchers hope to use the frozen water to enable more affordable and sustainable space exploration.

“Getting to the Moon isn’t just about building a spacecraft, but having a complete mission solution. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy completes our Griffin Mission 1 (GM1) solution by providing a proven launch vehicle to carry us on our trajectory to the Moon,” GM1 Director for Astrobotic Daniel Gillies said in a statement. “SpaceX has the team, vehicle, and facilities to make this happen.”

Gillies is a former SpaceX mission manager.

“I am fully aware of SpaceX’s capabilities and processes and am excited to be working with SpaceX on a mission once again. My first exposure to Falcon Heavy was as a SpaceX Mission Integrator on the STP-2 mission and I’m proud to be utilizing that same launch vehicle for Griffin,” Gillies said.

When it happens, the launch will mark the second for Astrobotic.

Astrobotic is preparing to launch its first moon lander, the Peregrine, from Florida later this year with SpaceX competitor ULA on the Vulcan Centaur rocket. That mission is carrying payloads as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program and will have about a dozen NASA experiments on board as well as payloads from other countries and time capsule items from private citizens.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton joins WKMG’s Space Curious podcast this week to talk about the upcoming Peregrine mission. Look for that episode Wednesday wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

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