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The Peregrine lunar lander may not make it to the moon


A picture from Peregrine showing a disturbance of the insulation in the foreground

Astrobotic

Things are looking grim for Astrobotic’s Peregrine spacecraft. It launched towards the moon aboard the Vulcan rocket on 8 January, but just seven hours after the launch it started experiencing “anomalies” that may prevent it from landing safely on the moon.

The first hint of a problem was that the spacecraft was unable to reorient itself so that its solar panels pointed at the sun. The engineering team on the ground was able to command the craft to manoeuvre and face the right direction so its batteries could charge. Those batteries power Peregrine’s communications and scientific instruments, which seem to be working fine for now.

But that isn’t the end of the problem. The thrusters intended to carry Peregrine to the moon and land it safely are powered by rocket fuel, which seems to be leaking. In a series of short statements, Astrobotic stated that the issue is “causing a critical loss of propellant” and “[this] propulsion anomaly, if proven true, threatens the ability of the spacecraft to soft land on the moon.” The first image sent back by the spacecraft shows billowing insulation in the foreground, hinting that whatever caused the fuel leak may have also disrupted the craft’s insulation.

If Peregrine cannot land on the moon, it is unclear which, if any, of its science objectives it will be able to accomplish, even though its battery is fully charged. “The team is working to try and stabilise this [propellant] loss, but given the situation, we have prioritised maximising the science and data we can capture,” the statements said. “We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.” Astrobotic did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Assuming that Peregrine will not be able to land, this marks the third failed attempt in a row by a private company to land on the moon – the Beresheet lander crashed to the lunar surface in 2019, and the Hakuto-R lander did the same in 2023. No private firm has yet succeeded in executing a soft landing on the moon.

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