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Astrobotic to use SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launcher for Griffin lunar lander

According to an April 13 announcement, Astrobotic will deploy its Griffin lunar lander which will be carrying NASA’s rover to the moon using Falcon Heavy launcher. Astrobotic won the $199.5 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract in June 2020. The Griffin lunar lander will be landing NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the lunar south pole in 2023. “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 I solution by providing a proven launch vehicle to carry us on our trajectory to the moon,” said Daniel Gillies, Griffin Mission 1 director.

Although Astrobotics has not made public the amount of money SpaceX is asking for the launch, it is estimated Falcon Heavy mission costs $90 million-according to SpaceX’s website. SpaceX asks for more money for government contracts, so it is not clear how much this deal will cost. Through the lunar rover, NASA will examine parts of the moon that are permanently shadowed and form ice deposits in craters. The agency is studying if the ice deposits are safe to be converted to liquid water for future crewed missions. VIPER was initially designed to operate for 14 days.

It has since been improved to carry out investigations for 100 days. The 14-day version was to be launched in 2022 nut NASA postponed the mission to make the enhancements. The 100-day mission will cost approximately 433.5 million, almost double the initial amount of the previous rover of $250 million. SpaceX will have a series of launches to make between now and 2024. Besides the Astrobotic mission, the Elon Musk co-founded company will also launch most landers delivering CLPS payloads to space.

Falcon 9 launcher will send two landers belonging to Intuitive Machines to space, one late this year and the other in 2022. The firm won two task orders in the CLPS program in 2019. Masten Space Systems will seek the help of SpaceX to launch its XL-1 lander mission slated for 2022. Astrobotic has a different mission from the Griffin Lunar lander, to be launched by a different launcher. The Peregrine mission, also part of CLPS, will be launched on the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur later this year. The mission is also destined to the moon.

Falcon Heavy has been on a halt since its last mission in 2019. The Griffin lunar mission is one in several launches lined up between now and  2024. This year, the re-usable heavy-lift vehicle will deliver a Space Force classified payload to space and another undisclosed mission. Gillies has worked at SpaceX as a mission integrator before coming to Astrobotic. He believes Falcon Heavy will do a perfect job. “Having previously sat on the other side of the table as a former SpaceX mission manager, I am fully aware of SpaceX’s capabilities and processes, and I am excited to be working with SpaceX on a mission once again,” he said.

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