SpaceX rival United Launch Alliance is making final preparations ahead of the debut launch of its new Vulcan rocket.
Vulcan, which will be the successor to ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, will transport a commercial lunar lander on its journey to the surface of the moon, as well as a mission carrying cremated human remains into deep space.
The flight test is planned to lift off early Monday from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The mission’s flight window opens at 2:18 a.m. Eastern time. Friday’s forecast shows an 85% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch, according to ULA.
There are two payloads for the CERT-1 flight test. After separation from the Vulcan booster stage, the rocket’s Centaur upper stage will place Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lunar lander into orbit more than 220,000 miles above Earth, from where it will intercept the moon. The Peregrine mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative to deliver science and technology to the moon’s surface.
Centaur will then carry a payload from Celestis Memorial Spaceflights into deep space. The mission, dubbed Enterprise Flight, includes 234 flight capsules containing cremated remains, DNA samples and messages, ULA said.
Portions of the cremated remains of several “Star Trek” icons, including creator Gene Roddenberry and actors James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols, are on the Enterprise Flight, as well as DNA from presidents George Washington, John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Celestis. The late presidents’ DNA is in hair samples, the Houston Chronicle reported.
A separate Celestis payload, dubbed the Tranquility Flight, will fly to the moon on the Peregrine lunar lander.
Celestis did not return a request for comment.
ULA was set up in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing Co. BA,
Vulcan’s booster propulsion is provided by a pair of BE-4 engines manufactured by Blue Origin, the space-rocket company founded by Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
The BE-4 engines use liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas, a commercially available form of methane. Unlike other rocket propellants, such as kerosene, liquefied natural gas eliminates the need for expensive and complex pressurization systems, such as those utilizing helium, which is in increasingly scarce supply, according to ULA.
ULA had initially planned for a Vulcan debut launch last May, but that was pushed back when a Vulcan rocket’s upper stage suffered an anomaly during testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in March, according to Space.com.
The company subsequently planned to launch Vulcan in the early hours of Christmas Eve, but delayed again to Jan. 8 to correct what ULA CEO Tory Bruno described as “routine” ground issues.
Two solid rocket boosters, or SRBs, will provide additional thrust for Vulcan’s debut flight. The new ULA rocket can integrate up to six of the Northrop Grumman Corp. NOC,