🌝 A Pittsburgh-built lander is headed to the Moon

A shiny lunar lander with gold foil fuel tanks in a clean white lab.

The first lander headed to the Moon since the Apollo missions is right here in Pittsburgh. Unveiled during a press conference yesterday that featured NASA administrator Bill Nelson and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA-8) among others, the Peregrine lander will carry 24 payloads ranging from highly sensitive instruments to a 4-pound rover assembled by CMU students to our satellite. Peregrine is anticipated to make its journey this fall aboard the heavy-duty Vulcan rocket, by which time it will have been more than 50 years since the Apollo program ended. The lander is part of the Artemis program, a NASA project with plans to send the first woman to walk on the moon as well as build a lunar colony.

NASA and Astrobotic leaders pose for a photo in front of the Peregrine lander.
NASA and Astrobotic leaders pose for a photo in front of the Peregrine lander.

Let’s talk specs. Peregrine looks kind of like Apollo’s Eagle lander, but it’ll be unmanned. The lander has four legs which will be fitted with crushable foam feet to dampen impact. Two exterior fuel tanks and a central helium tank—the shiny gold bits in the above picture—will feed the yet-to-be-attached rocket engines. A solar panel on top, which Astrobotic CEO John Thornton jokingly called Peregrine’s “hat,” will help power the lander once it is in position. (Do you think they ever call it “Perry”?)

After completion, the craft will undergo environmental testing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, which features a massive, sand-filled lunar simulation room. A later lander, Griffin, will search the Moon’s South Pole for water. Griffin is considerably wider and flatter than Peregrine and includes extendable booms it will use to take samples of the lunar surface.

Rep. Cartwright hailed funding earmarked by the House Appropriations Committee for Artemis as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington. Meanwhile, Nelson touted NASA’s work with Astrobotic as the agency’s latest effort to “get industry to show government how you can do things cheaper but still be reliable and safe.” NASA has been working more and more with private corporations, including Amazon and SpaceX, as it seeks to increase the frequency and scope of US spaceflight.

The ’Burgh is vying hard to be America’s next space city. Astrobotic joined Keystone Space Collaborative, NASA officials and other area companies for Pittsburgh’s first-ever space conference at the Carnegie Science Center this week. Their Moonshot Museum, whose director Sam we interviewed in February, is a further signal that the CMU-born space company is here to stay—Keystone Space Collaborative board chair Justine Kasznica says the Tri-State region “outcompetes Texas and Florida” in space technology and praised Astrobotic as “a shining star of what our region can create.”

You can watch our Reel of the unveiling over on Instagram. We’ll be tracking further developments as they’re available. Here’s hoping Perry has a successful launch later this year!