United Launch Alliance eyes May liftoff for Nichelle Nichols ashes spacecraft

United Launch Alliance recently announced that it is targeting May for the inaugural launch of its long-awaited Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is expected to carry everything from satellites to human ashes into space.

The Vulcan Centaur rocket has faced years of delays after slower-than-expected development of powerful engines and demands for when the lunar lander can launch.

According to an updated schedule released by ULA CEO Tory Bruno, the more than 200-foot-tall rocket will lift off on May 4, 2023, from the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida.

If the launch is successful, the company plans to eventually replace its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets with the Vulcan Centaur.

The rocket is said to be capable of launching a 60,000-pound payload into low-Earth orbit and could one day be certified to carry highly sensitive satellites for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Here’s a look at the payload that will be on the uncrewed launch.

Moon Landing by Astrobotic Technology

The Peregrine Lunar Lander will carry scientific and other payloads to the surface of the moon.

Astrobotic Technology said it will be the first commercial mission to land on another planetary body.

The satellites will launch in early 2023 on United Launch Alliance's (ULA) new Vulcan Centaur rocket and test the system's performance in space.
The rocket experienced massive delays due to powerful engines.

NASA said the Peregrine 1 mission will study the moon’s exosphere, thermal properties, magnetic fields and radiation.

Souvenirs and payloads from six countries are expected to be on board when it departs from the Vulcan Centaur rocket after reaching its designated orbit.

Broadband satellite prototype for Amazon

Project Kuiper, Amazon’s proposed broadband program, will have two prototype satellites on the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Amazon said the goal of the constellation will be to bring fast, affordable Internet to underserved communities around the world.

Nichelle Nichols, 1966-69.
Nichols’ cremated remains will be one of more than 150 capsules on the flight.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Once complete, the constellation is expected to have more than 3,200 Earth-orbiting satellites and be similar to SpaceX’s Starlink program.

The world’s largest online retailer has already signed an agreement with ULA for an additional 47 releases for Project Kuiper.

Dates for future launches of the Vulcan Centaur rocket have not been set.

“We couldn’t be more excited to participate in the first launch of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur. We have already secured 38 Kuiper launches on Vulcan, and using the same launch vehicle for our prototype mission gives us the opportunity to practice payload mission integration, processing and management processes before these full-scale commercial launches,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president technology president for Project Kuiper, said in a statement.

Human ashes for Kelestis

The cremated remains of Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols will be one of more than 150 capsules on the inaugural flight of Vulcan Centaur, which will launch the personal belongings on an endless journey into space.

Celestis, Inc., a Texas-based company, offers souvenir flights starting at $2,995 and can cost customers $12,995 or more.

Launching cremated remains into space is not a new mission, but sending them beyond Earth and Moon orbit has not been accomplished by a commercial company.

The rocket is reportedly capable of sending 60,000 pounds of payload into Earth orbit.
The rocket is reportedly capable of sending 60,000 pounds of payload into Earth orbit.

Also on the rocket will be ashes from the Star Trek creator and several other cast members.

The opening date of May 4 is also synonymous with the celebration of the Star Wars series – a fitting day for the relics of Nichols and the Star Trek cast to begin their maiden voyage.