Have a few hundred bucks lying around? Here's something neat you can do: Send some of your junk to the friggin' Moon.
This is the pitch from Astrobotic Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based spaceflight company that offers cargo space on its prospective lunar lander on a semi-affordable price scale (starting at $460 for a half-inch capsule).
On Wednesday, the company announced a major new step towards this goal by selecting United Launch Alliance (ULA), home of the workhorse Delta and Atlas rocket families, as the launch provider for Astrobotic's flagship Peregrine lunar lander. If all goes to plan, liftoff will take place in 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, which marked the first time humans had set foot on another world.
The timeframe is tentative, as with any launch manifest, but ULA, which began as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is a major provider of reliable vehicles, lending some credibility to the target date.
"Astrobotic is thrilled to select a ULA launch vehicle as the means to get Peregrine to the Moon," said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, in a statement. "By launching with ULA, Astrobotic can rest assured our payload customers will ride on a proven launch vehicle with a solid track record of success. Together, our two organizations will honor the past and trail blaze the lunar future."
In addition to partnering with ULA, Astrobotic is also collaborating with aerospace and defense company Airbus and mailing logistics company DHL. In fact, Peregrine's cargo container is called the DHL MoonBox™, the kind of brand-name you'd expect to see in Futurama's Planet Express headquarters.
Concept animation of the trajectory of previous lander concept, the Griffin.
Astrobotic intends to fill this special Moonbound parcel with a variety of consumer-based contributions, from science experiments to family heirlooms, provided they meet the company's safety requirements (no sending fireworks to the Moon). The only biological cargo that is permitted is hair and teeth, so send away, if you're into that kind of thing. Astrobotic recommends its partner organization, Elysium, if you're in the market to deliver your ashes to the Moon.
Read More: Send Your Wedding Ring to the Moon
Astrobotic was founded in 2008 by Red Whittaker, a roboticist and professor at Carnegie Mellon. For several years, the company pursued the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP), a Google-sponsored race between commercial space enterprises to design, build, and land a robot on the Moon, with its previous lander concept, the Griffin.
Though it bowed out of the competition in late 2016, Astrobotic has cut deals with other GLXP contenders to hitch rides on future flights of Peregrine, and on Tuesday, the company signed a contract with the startup ATLAS Space Operations Inc to land the first laser communications terminal on the Moon.
While it may not be the first private organization to soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon, as that honor will likely be claimed by one of the four challengers left in the GLXP, Astrobotic could be the first company based in the Rust Belt to make the lunar leap.
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