Space robotics start-up Astrobotic has selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket to launch its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2021.

The two companies noted that the mission will be the first operational flight for both vehicles.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said: “This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible.

“When we launch the first lunar lander from American soil since Apollo, onboard the first Vulcan Centaur rocket, it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise.”

Nasa’s commercial lunar payload services (CLPS) programme selected Astrobotic to deliver 14 Nasa payloads to the Moon on its Peregrine lunar lander in 2021.

With the $79.5m CLPS contract, Astrobotic currently has 16 customers for its first lunar mission.

ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno said: “Our rockets have carried exploration missions to the Moon, the Sun, and every planet in the solar system so it is only fitting that Vulcan Centaur’s inaugural flight will lead the return of Americans to the lunar surface.”

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“This partnership represents a true ‘whole-of-government’ approach to how our nation is leading the world in space: Nasa contracted with a commercial company to land on the Moon, who then went on to contract with a commercial company for a rocket built to serve the national security space market.”

In April 2015, ULA unveiled details of Vulcan, a next-generation launch system intended to end US reliance on Russia-built rocket engines.

In the same year, Astrobotic developed the preliminary version of flight software for precision guidance of its Griffin lander as part of Nasa’s Lunar CATALYST programme.