US Return to the Moon Scheduled for January 25, 2024, After 50 Long Years


More than fifty years after the last Apollo mission, the United States is gearing up for a historic return to the moon on January 25, 2024. This ambitious project marks a crucial step for NASA’s Artemis missions, aiming to send humans, including the first woman, back to our natural satellite in 2025.

Half a century after the last human footprint on the moon, the United States is poised to revisit Prior to the manned Artemis launch, optimistically scheduled for November 2024, NASA will undertake a return to the satellite on January 25, joining a mission with a private robotic lander. Astrobotic, an American company, is creating it under the name Peregrine.

Several years ago, NASA chose to entrust private companies with sending scientific experiments and technologies to the Moon under a program called CLPS. Astrobotic’s CEO, John Thornton, stated that it would carry instruments from NASA (no crew will be on board). These instruments will be used to study the lunar environment, paving the way for future manned missions.

Advanced Technology, International Collaboration and Reduced Costs

The Peregrine mission stands out for its ambition to significantly reduce the costs of lunar exploration while addressing unprecedented technical and scientific challenges. John Thornton highlights the mission’s objective: achieving a lunar landing at a cost significantly lower than the Apollo missions. This economic approach is crucial, especially considering the lunar exploration history, which has a success rate of only 50%.

The Peregrine lander, measuring approximately 1.80 meters in height, is a technological feat, according to Astrobotic. Scheduled for launch on December 24th from Florida aboard the inaugural flight of the new ULA industrial group’s rocket, named Vulcan Centaur, it will carry 21 payloads from NASA, governments, universities, and businesses from seven different countries.

100% Autonomous Travel

Among NASA’s payloads are a neutron spectrometer system, which will search for signs of water ice near the lunar surface by examining the soil composition, and a linear energy transfer spectrometer, which will collect information on radioactivity on the lunar surface. The planned landing will take place in a geologically fascinating region with historic basaltic lava flows, which will be a useful study area for researchers.

According to Thornton, it will take the probe “a few days” to enter lunar orbit after launch, but it won’t be able to try to land until January 25 in order to make sure the target location has good lighting.

This entirely autonomous journey will require no direct human intervention during landing. However, every step of the mission will be rigorously monitored from Astrobotic’s control center. This continuous monitoring ensures optimal responsiveness in case of unforeseen events and enables precise data collection throughout the mission.

CLPS Program and Vision of a Lunar Economy

Peregrine lander © United Launch Alliance
Peregrine lander © United Launch Alliance.

The NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program is a strategic initiative aimed at involving the private sector in lunar exploration. By commissioning companies such as Astrobotic for missions like Peregrine, NASA seeks to stimulate innovation and reduce costs through competition and private sector expertise. The ultimate goal of CLPS is to develop commercial infrastructure on the Moon, paving the way for sustainable economic activities in space.

Chris Culbert, the CLPS program manager, acknowledges that while not all missions are successful, each plays a key role in building this lunar economy. By testing new technologies, validating operational concepts, and accumulating valuable knowledge, each mission contributes to a developing lunar ecosystem, essential for future exploration and exploitation.

Peregrine’s Impact on Artemis Missions

Peregrine flight plan © Astrobiotic
Peregrine flight plan © Astrobiotic.

The Peregrine mission goes beyond a mere technological demonstration; it serves as a crucial precursor to NASA’s Artemis missions. These missions aim to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon and achieve the historic milestone of sending the first woman to the lunar surface. The success of Peregrine is, therefore, pivotal in validating the technologies and strategies that will be employed in the Artemis missions.

By providing data on the lunar environment, testing equipment, and demonstrating the feasibility of autonomous landings, Peregrine will contribute to minimizing risks for human crews and maximizing the chances of success in the Artemis missions. Furthermore, the insights gained from Peregrine could inform the design of future manned and robotic missions, not only to the Moon but potentially to other destinations, including Mars.