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Updated January 9th, 2024 at 13:58 IST

Astrobotic's Peregrine lander suffers major anomaly, Moon landing no longer possible

Peregrine faced trouble after separation from the Vulcan rocket which lifted off at 12:48 pm IST on January 8 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Harsh Vardhan
astrobotic
Artist's impression of the Peregrine lander on the Moon. | Image:Astrobotic
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US-based Astrobotic has deserted its dream of landing on the Moon as its Peregrine lander has suffered a major anomaly in space. After a flawless launch aboard the United Launch Alliance's (ULA) brand-new Vulcan rocket at 12:48 pm IST from Florida on January 8, Peregrine faced trouble after separation from the launch vehicle's Centaur V upper stage at 1:39 pm. 

Vulcan launching with the Peregrine lander. Image: ULA

In an update after the separation, Astrobotic revealed that while its mission team established communication with Peregrine, the lander failed to orient itself toward the Sun to charge its solar panels due to a failure of the propulsion system. This failure, Astrobotic said, is causing “critical loss of propellant.” 

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The Peregrine lander. Image: X/@NASAScienceAA

 

In another update at 7:46 am on January 9, the company said that the spacecraft is expected to continue in its sun-stable pointing state for about 40 hours based on the current rate of fuel consumption.

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Astrobotic also released the first picture from Peregrine's onboard camera suggesting the propulsion anomaly. "The disturbance of the MLI (Multi-layer Insulation) is the first visual clue that aligns with our telemetry data that points to a propulsion system anomaly," the company said.

Onboard camera view from Peregrine. Image: Astrobotic

 

Needless to say, the Moon landing has been ruled out but the mission team is trying to get Peregrine as close to the Moon as possible before it loses power. Peregrine was supposed to touch down on February 23 at Sinus Viscositatis near the Gruithuisen Domes on the near side of the Moon. This was the first US mission to lift off to the Moon in more than 50 years after the Apollo 17 which launched in December 1972. 

Originally planned lunar trajectory for Peregrine. Image: NASA 

 

"The spacecraft's battery is now fully charged, and we are using Peregrine's existing power to perform as many payload and spacecraft operations as possible," Astrobotic said. It also said that the mission team is now assessing "alternative mission profiles" which may be feasible now.

The lander is carrying 20 scientific instruments and technologies contributed by six countries. These instruments include five from NASA which would have located water molecules on the Moon, measured radiation and gases around the landing site and evaluated the lunar exosphere. It is also carrying Mexico's first lunar probe and cremated remains, DNA samples and other mementos for space burial company Celestis for its Enterprise Flight.

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Peregrine Mission One (PM1) is the first Moon landing attempt under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Under this initiative, NASA offers contracts to private companies to deliver payloads to the lunar surface in a lander completely designed and built by those companies. All this is to support NASA's Artemis Program which aims to build sustainable bases on the Moon.

With Astrobotic seemingly failing to land on the Moon, Intuitive Machines is the other private company next in line. It is targeting the launch of its Nova lander in mid-February and it will be the second mission part of NASA's CLPS initiative.

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Published January 9th, 2024 at 13:58 IST

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